Brigadier General Timothy P. Williams, adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, left, and Brigadier General Robert Brooks, component commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, answer questions from members of the media after announcing that the pilot who had been missing from an F-15 jet that crashed near Deerfield, Va. was found dead on Thursday. (Griffin Moores/The Associated Press)
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A Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter aircraft sits near a hangar at Barnes Air National Guard Base on Aug. 27 in Westfield, Mass. (Steven Senne / The Associated Press)
DEERFIELD, VA. — When investigators were finally able to safely enter the crash site of an F-15C "Eagle" fighter jet on Thursday afternoon, they made a grim discovery that concluded more than 30 hours of searching – the pilot never managed to eject from the aircraft.
The somber news was delivered late Thursday night during a press conference at the Deerfield Volunteer Fire-Rescue, where roughly 150 searchers made their base during the two-day search for the pilot.
"Today was a tough day for the Massachusetts Air National Guard, as we learned we lost a great American, a warrior, a leader and most importantly a family member," said Brigadier General Robert Brooks of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
The still unidentified pilot was part of the 104th fighter Wing out of Westfield, Massachusetts. The single seat F-15C aircraft was en route to Naval Air Station New Orleans to receive a radar system upgrade, according to the pilot's unit.
The jet crashed shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday morning east of Deerfield near Bear Wallow Flat Lane. Air Force investigators are expected to take several weeks piecing together details of the crash and its cause.
The remote crash site was too hot for Air Force investigators on Wednesday as search teams, perhaps buoyed by a false report that a witness saw a parachute, scoured miles of rough terrain both on foot and from the air. It wasn't until Thursday, when the heat from the wreckage had subsided, that investigators could get a closer look.
"At that time they discovered evidence that our pilot did not eject from the aircraft. We have transitioned from a search and rescue effort to a recovery operation," Brooks said.
The general said more than 30 agencies participated in the effort "to bring home our fallen airman."
The family of the pilot has been notified of his death, but Brooks said his name won't be released to the public until Friday.
Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said during the course of the ongoing investigation that the U.S. Forestry Service will provide perimeter security for the Air Force at the site of the crash off Bear Wallow Flat Lane.