Search team reaches F-22 crash site

November 19, 2010 

A search team this afternoon reached the site of an F-22 crash in a remote and rugged area south of the Denali Highway, but a spokesman in the military's emergency operations center would not comment on what they found there.

Col. Jack McMullen plans a short statement at Hertiage Park at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson at about 5 p.m., a base spokesman said.

The Raptor, piloted by Capt. Jeffrey Haney, 31, crashed Tuesday night.

Two convoys of vehicles, equipment and 135 soldiers and airmen drove about 60 miles into the closed-for-the-season highway today. They expected to be looking through the wreckage and scour the wilderness for signs of Haney, who is assigned to the 525th Fighter Squadron.

Pararescuemen with the Alaska Air National Guard erarlier found no conclusive evidence that Haney was in the plane when it crashed, base spokesman John Pennell said early Friday. The pararescuemen landed in the area of the crash and were on the ground for several hours Wednesday. The highly skilled rescuers were unable to get close to the wreckage, described as a large crater between two mountains with water running through it, according to a Guard spokesperson.

When asked about any indication as to whether Haney ejected, Pennell said the Air Force doesn't know.

"That's why we're trying to get in to the site, to find evidence as to whether the seat was ejected or in the aircraft when it crashed," Pennell said.

Pennell said he was not aware of any signal picked up from a rescue beacon.

The F-22 went missing at about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday when it lost contact with air traffic controllers and a companion F-22 pilot with whom Haney was flying. The pair were an hour and 20 minutes into their flight and were supposed to rejoin and head for home, but Haney hasn't been seen since they separated during the nighttime training mission.

The search effort was slowed by snow and wind on the drive north from Anchorage on Thursday, Pennell said. Today, search coordinators were keeping a close eye on the cold: Temperatures in the area dropped to 10 below zero, with a wind chill of 20 below as the dozens of Army and Air Force personnel headed into the Alaska wilderness on a highway that's usually closed in winter.

The base's emergency operations center was abuzz with activity, Pennell said Friday morning. Hundreds of active duty men and women are assisting with the search effort, he said.

"Everything right now is just a mass of coordination and pandemonium here in the building, where we're not only trying to get stuff happening today but also pushing forward for tomorrow, the day after, and the day after."

Members of the convoys reached the shuttered Susitna Lodge near the Susitna River around noon, Pennell said.

Setting up a staging area is much more complicated because of the weather, Pennell said. Portable heaters and extra fuel had to be packed on the vehicles in which the men and women rode. Coordinators are unsure of the condition of the lodge, and they've packed tents as well, Pennell said.

"Obviously Alaska's size, terrain and weather conditions make an operation like this difficult, logistically," said Air Force Col. Jack McMullen, 3rd Wing commander, in a statement. "The training area where the F-22 crashed is larger than the state of Vermont. It's remote, with no maintained roads in the winter and the terrain is very rugged. All these factors complicate the process even in good weather. When you factor in subzero temperatures and the potential for heavy snowfall, you see this is truly a massive undertaking."

High-tech devices were also onboard, including communications gear, Pennell said.

"We're talking about an area where you can't just pull out your cell phone and call people," Pennell said.

To get to the lodge, the Army and Air Force had some help from the state Department of Transportation, which plowed a way through the snow to the lodge, about 60 miles east of Cantwell on the Denali Highway, a couple miles past the Susitna River.

"It's hard to put what we're doing into words," Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Jackson, Emergency Operations Center director, said in a press release. "What we're doing is like building a small city of support to supply the site. We're setting up an airport and hotel in the middle of nowhere, essentially."

A second convoy was en route today carrying the equivalent of four C-17 Globemaster loads full of supplies, according to the military. The C-17 can carry a maximum payload of 170,900 pounds, according to Boeing, its manufacturer.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice to airmen Thursday that it was temporarily closing a 40-mile-wide circle of airspace centered near Deadman Mountain.

A HISTORY OF F-22 EMERGENCIES

According to the Air Force, there have been four emergency incidents with the Raptor or its prototypes, including three crashes, one of which was fatal.

• March 2009: An F-22 on a test flight crashed about 35 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The crash killed the pilot, a contractor for Lockheed Martin and a 21-years Air Force veteran. "Human factors associated with high gravitational forces," caused the crash, according to an accident investigation report.

• September 2007: Loaded with eight small-diameter bombs, an F-22 suffered a brief flameout of both of its engines while conducting a midair roll. Investigators blamed an incorrect trim setting. As a result of the power loss, air traffic controllers briefly lost telemetry signals from the jet.

• December 2004: An F-22 lost electrical power shortly after taking off from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The test pilot, a lieutenant colonel, survived after ejecting just before the jet flipped and skidded across the desert floor. The Air Force ceased F-22 flight operations for 18 days following the crash.

• April 1992: A prototype to the F-22, the YF-22, slamed into an Edwards Air Force Base runway, because of a low approach taken by the test pilot, who ejected safely.


Find Casey Grove online at adn.com/contact/casey.grove or call him at 257-4589.

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