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Heavy chopper scopes possible A-10 wreckage

mh53e helicopter

Search mission hampered by bad weather

April 22, 1997
Web posted at: 5:15 p.m. EDT

EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- A heavy-lifting MH-53 helicopter hovered Tuesday over the suspected A-10 crash site near New York Mountain, trying to determine how a recovery team could reach the wreckage.

The weather improved somewhat Tuesday, with overcast conditions but no precipitation. Officials were still concerned about unpredictable winds at high elevations. That could make it difficult to get a helicopter close enough to the jagged peaks to let searchers reach the site.

Brisk winds and blowing snow Monday delayed a search with the MH-53 chopper, which can fly at altitudes up to 16,000 feet and hover in stiff winds.

If the metal fragments spotted Sunday near New York Mountain and Gold Dust Peak are found to be part of Air Force Capt. Craig Button's missing Thunderbolt , a thorough search of the wreckage could be delayed for days or weeks, until snow melts sufficiently, authorities said.

The snow poses an avalanche risk and also could conceal hazardous footing, probably making it too risky for the recovery team, said Maj. Gen. Niles Running, the search commander.

Plane vanished mysteriously


Button, 32, and his bomb-laden warplane vanished from radar April 2 after he broke formation during a routine training mission near Tucson, Arizona, and headed for the Colorado mountains. Why he broke formation remains a mystery.

The crew of a search helicopter spotted debris Sunday on a sheer 13,000-foot cliff.

Chief Warrant Officer Richard Rugg and Chief Warrant Officer Dale Jensen maneuvered their helicopter within 30 feet of the site, and identified gray painted metal that could have come from inside the A-10, and several smaller pieces of metal.

An Air Force pilot who later flew over the site said he was 99.9 percent certain the wreckage was the missing plane. There was no sign of the pilot.


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