The remains of an F-22 Raptor pilot who died when his jet crashed south of the Denali Highway near Cantwell on Nov. 16 have been recovered, and the joint Air Force and Army cleanup at the site has been suspended, military officials said Wednesday.
"They can't do anything right now because of the weather up there," said Air Force spokesman Bob Hall.
A statement issued Wednesday from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson said pieces of the plane have been recovered around the crater where the fighter bored into the ground, but parts and hazardous materials remain. The Air Force warned that the remaining debris could be dangerous and asked snowmachiners and other backcountry travelers to report found parts at (907) 552-9321.
"Modern composite aircraft, including the F-22, use materials that can present health risks if they are mishandled," Air Force Col. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the medical group commander at the base, said in the statement.
Capt. Jeff Haney, 31, of Clarklake, Mich., died after his F-22 suddenly broke off communication during a night training flight with another F-22. A massive military search effort was undertaken immediately afterward in the rugged area. The statement says safety experts are still examining the F-22 wreckage to try to learn what caused the crash.
The Air Force warned against souvenir hunting at the site.
"The health risks become significant if you don't have the proper equipment and are cutting or grinding pieces of the airplane," Friedrichs said. Maintenance crews routinely use thick gloves, eye protection and respirators when working on the plane, officials said.
Water filled the crater after the crash, then turned to ice. Air Force officials said they are concerned about what will happen during breakup, when melting snow and runoff could expose additional material from the plane.