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Searchers recover remains of A-10 pilot crashed in Colorado

crash site July 7, 1997
Web posted at: 9:08 p.m. EDT (0108 GMT)

EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- A recovery team returned from a remote mountain peak Monday with the remains of Capt. Craig Button and possibly a round of ammunition from the wreckage of his aircraft.

The Air Force team -- five para-rescuers, two munitions experts and two "spotters" -- will return to the summit Tuesday and will continue their search, possibly for weeks.


Button died when the A-10 jet he piloted crashed after disappearing in early April during a training flight. Officials launched an intensive search, and 18 days later the Air Force found the wreckage April 20 on Gold Dust Peak.

At that time rescue crews gathered enough material to identify the wreckage and confirm that Button was dead, but bad weather and snow on the ground prevented further recovery efforts.

The search Monday turned up one round of 30mm ammunition, but it was not immediately clear if the rescue workers brought it back or left it on the mountainside for it to be exploded there at a later date, Capt. Robyn Chumley said.

The ammunition and remains were found at the summit, near the point of impact, at about 12,500 feet, Chumley said. A large amount of debris had washed 500 feet or so down the mountainside because of snow melt.

Searchers have three goals

Air Force spokesman Maj. Joe LaMarca told CNN searchers have three major goals: "to gather material to determine the cause of the incident," to collect dangerous explosives from the plane and to gather Button's remains.

LaMarca says if enough remains can be collected, "If possible we'll do an autopsy and then return those to the family."

The A-10 was carrying four 500-pound Mark-82 bombs, 500 rounds of 30mm training ammunition, ejection seat pyrotechnics, chaff and magnesium flares.

Chaff is fired as a diversion for an enemy's radar-guided missiles. The flares are used to decoy heat-seeking missiles.

The flares present a special danger, LaMarca said, because "They burn really hot, and static electricity could set those off."

In addition, searchers will have to determine if the A-10 was still carrying all its weaponry at the time of the crash.

LaMarca said the Air Force is operating on the presumption that all the weapons were on the plane when it crashed but has not yet located them. "The Air Force has no indication that he released any of the weapons. If we did, we'd be looking in those locations," he said.

LaMarca says the search teams "will take a very methodical approach. There's nobody out there, there's no urgency... we'll take however long as it takes to do it safely."

Workers to set up camp

LaMarca says crews of from four to seven people will spend eight hours a day searching, for as long as three weeks. They could begin camping overnight on the mountain side beginning Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Donald Streater, who is commanding the operation, stressed "the main thing is to handle these munitions carefully so no one is injured." Streater called the crash site "some of the most formidable terrain I have ever seen." It is located near a mountain top approximately 15 miles southwest of Vail, Colorado.

Because of potential danger to the public, the National Forest Service has barred entry to the five square-mile crash-site until recovery efforts are complete. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered an air exclusion zone over the site.


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