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F-16s scramble to unresponsive pilot over West Virginia

July 31, 2009 (by Air Force News Service) - Officials from the 601st Air and Space Operations Center responded to a call from Federal Aviation Administration officials at approximately 20.00h Eastern time July 30 when radio calls to a civilian pilot went unanswered.
F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots flying under the command and control of North American Aerospace Defense Command officials and its geographical component, Continental U.S. NORAD Region, scrambled to make airborne contact with the Cirrus SR-22 aircraft that was bound for Eagle Creek, Ind., from York, Neb.

The F-16s made visual contact with the plane at approximately 20.35h and attempted to gain the pilot's attention through a series of actions, which included radio calls, expending flares and nonverbal cues. The fighters remained with the aircraft as it descended from 25,000 feet at its highest altitude until the SR-22 crashed into a residential area on the Ohio-West Virginia border near Parkersburg, W.Va.

"The FAA called us for (Department of Defense) assistance when the pilot failed to change his altitude and radio frequency after direction from ground controllers," said Lt. Col. Ron Hudspeth, the 601st AOC senior operations duty officer.

When the aircraft crashed at 21.55h, the F-16s assisted first responders in locating the impact site by circling the area until Jackson County Sheriff's deputies located the wreckage. Once deputies were on scene, the fighters returned to their home base in Toledo.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased pilot at this time," said Maj. Gen. Henry C. "Hank" Morrow, the 1st Air Force commander. "We strive for a safe and positive outcome on incidents such as this, but we lost a fellow aviator yesterday and we extend our deepest sympathy to all who knew him."

When asked about the actions taken by members of his organization, the general said, "The synchronized actions and cooperation between the FAA, Department of Homeland Security, local law enforcement and the Air Force were extraordinary. It is a reflection of the close interagency relationship we share with federal, state and local organizations, and solidifies our charter mission of homeland defense."

Courtesy of CONR-1AF