The experienced pilot of the single-seat jet was headed to New Orleans for radar installation as part of routine maintenance and reported an inflight emergency, then lost radio contact, authorities said. The pilot and jet are with the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, officials there said. The Massachusetts Air National Guard issued a statement Thursday morning saying the search was expanding with additional Air Force resources.
The guard said specially equipped HC-130 aircraft assigned to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia began searching at 3 a.m. Thursday.
Officials haven't yet said what caused the crash or whether the pilot ejected. The crash caused a deep crater and a large debris field in a heavily wooded but level area adjacent to a mountain in the George Washington National Forest, officials said.
Col. James Keefe said at a news conference Wednesday in Westfield, Massachusetts, home of the fighter wing, that there were no munitions onboard the jet at the time of the crash.
Keefe said the plane was flying about 30,000 to 40,000 feet "pretty high" when the pilot reported the emergency. Pilots are trained to release equipment when ejecting, Keefe said, so it was likely the pilot did not have a radio.
F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the Air Force website. The F-15C Eagle entered the Air Force inventory in 1979 and costs nearly $30 million, the website says. The Air Force has nearly 250 F-15s.
Several F-15s have crashed over the past few years in various states. In at least one, the pilot ejected safely. Causes included failure of a support structure for the jet and pilot error.
Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Brock Vergakis in Norfolk, and Stephen Singer in Westfield, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.