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Human remains believed to be missing pilot

Tests will make positive identification

A helicopter hovering over the crash site April 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:42 a.m. EDT (1442 GMT)

EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- The human remains found at the crash site of an Air Force A-10 bomber in Colorado are believed to be those of the plane's pilot, who mysteriously broke formation and vanished with his plane while on a training run three weeks ago.

Sources told CNN that the remains were those of the plane's pilot, Capt. Craig Button, but the Air Force did not confirm the identification.

The remains were found Friday in an area where pieces of the Thunderbolt's cockpit were discovered, said Maj. Gen. Nels Running.

Maj. General Nels Runing

Running said a positive identification of the body parts could not be made until a DNA analysis is performed, which is expected to take two or three days. But he said Button's parents have been notified.

"We are positive they are human remains. We are not positive whose human remains they are," Running said. The search team that found the remains had been lowered by helicopter onto the crash site.

No answer yet on why Button broke formation

Button, 32, was on a training run over the Arizona desert on April 2 when his plane broke off from formation and headed toward Colorado. Its last radar sighting was near the crash site in the New York Mountains near the town of Eagle.

Map of crash site

Air Force officials say evidence seems to indicate that Button was in navigational control of the aircraft during the fatal flight.

While the discovery of the remains Friday likely answers the question of Button's ultimate fate, the mystery remains as to why a pilot with an solid military record would break formation and steer hundreds of miles off course.

"The 'why' is a question that may never be known," Running said. He said an investigation into why Button did what he did would continue.

Craig Button

Button has been described by friends and family members as an all-American, gung-ho pilot who loved his life in the Air Force and had an exemplary military record. Investigators have so far found nothing in his background that would explain the events leading up to the crash of the A-10.

There were reports that Button, a Mormon, may have been upset by the conversion of his mother to the Jehovah's Witness sect. But his parents say the conversion was years ago and that Button was not distraught about it.

Air Force will wait until thaw to search for bombs

Now that the crash site has been identified and a body found, Running said the Air Force would probably wait until "well into the serious melt season" to try to locate four 500-pound bombs on board the aircraft. In the meantime, the U.S. Forest Service will keep the area off-limits to hikers.

He said observations of the crash site indicate that the bombs may not have exploded.

"There is no evidence of great fire damage or marking," he said.


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