The 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard confirmed an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot died after the fighter jet went down over Michigan on Tuesday night at around 8 p.m. All flights on base are now grounded amid an investigation.
The pilot’s death was announced after authorities spent much of Wednesday and Thursday searching for the pilot, who had been missing after the crash. The pilot’s name is being withheld, pending notification of the pilot’s family.
In a statement shared by the 115th Fighter Wing on Facebook, 115th Fighter Wing commander Col. Bart Van Roo said, “We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss; our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. Today is a day for mourning, the 115th Fighter Wing and the entire Wisconsin National Guard stands with the pilot’s family as we grieve the loss of a great Airman, and patriot.”
Roo added, “We are an extremely close knit group at the fighter wing, the loss of one of our own brings immeasurable sadness to every member of our organization.”
The cause of Tuesday’s crash is not yet known and is under investigation. Van Roo announced in a press conference Friday morning that all flights on base would be temporarily grounded.
“It is grounded based on what we determine to be a safe time for us to fly again,” Van Roo said. “Obviously we conduct a mission that we need to continue, so we are slowly and deliberately looking at all things until we determine that we are safe to fly again.”
Posted by 115th Fighter Wing on Friday, December 11, 2020
The pilot was the single individual aboard the aircraft, which took off from Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison, Wisconsin. The aircraft was flying as part of a training mission at the time.
The F-16 went down over Michigan’s Hiawatha National Forest. Local responders were the first to secure the crash site and the 115th Fighter Wing said it coordinated its search for the pilot with local authorities as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and other government agencies, searching by air, land and water.
Another F-16 fighter jet, flying from Shaw Air Force Base, in South Carolina, crashed in June of this year. The pilot in that incident, identified as 1st Lt. David Schmitz of the Air Force’s 20th Fighter Wing, was pronounced dead.
Another F-16 fighter jet, assigned to the 49th Wing in New Mexico, crashed on Oct. 27 of 2019. The pilot, in that case, was able to eject from the aircraft but was hospitalized following the incident. About three weeks earlier, another F-16 assigned to the 480th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, out of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, crashed, while the pilot was able to eject and was also taken to a nearby hospital.
The F-16 is a multi-role fighter jet designed by Lockheed Martin Corp. The first F-16A variant entered into U.S. service in January of 1979, according to an Air Force fact sheet of the fighter.