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Ogden » An F-16 pilot missing after his jet crashed Monday night during training was killed, according to a friend of the pilot's family in Candler, N.C.
Hill Air Force Base officials would not release the pilot's name or confirm his death, but Bill Jamison confirmed that Capt. George Bryan Houghton, 28, of Candler, was killed during a nighttime exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range in the massive, rugged and remote west desert around 10:25 p.m. Monday.
Col. Scott Dennis, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, said the pilot's body was recovered 35 miles south of Wendover after a several-hours search.
Houghton, a member of the 421st Fighter Squad, was expecting to be deployed to Afghanistan in the next couple of weeks.
Jamison, whose son was friends with Houghton, said Hill's 388th Fighter Wing commander called the airman's family to notify them of the fatal accident Tuesday at 3 a.m. EST. He said the family did not know whether the crash was a result of a problem with the aircraft or any further details on the cause of the crash.
"They're pretty much devastated," Jamison said of Houghton's family, who also nearly lost their son Daniel in Afghanistan during a 2007 helicopter crash.
Two years after that crash, Jamison said Daniel is still recovering in a military hospital on a Texas Air Force Base and still is suffering from infections and recovering from screws and plates in his legs. Jamison said he was unsure why Daniel Houghton's chopper went down.
The Houghtons' youngest son, Patrick, is currently a senior at the Air Force Academy.
Jamison described George Houghton as a "fine young man." He said Houghton was an outdoorsman who loved to fish and camp and was an active Boy Scout who earned the highest scouting status -- Eagle Scout.
Houghton also had a wife, whom he had lived with in the Layton area for more than a year while he was stationed at Hill, Jamison said.
"He was just a natural-born leader," Jamison said. "Just an all-around good American boy who was born to serve his country."
Hill officials have said Houghton's F-16 was on a routine training mission, and the cause of the crash will be investigated by military officials. The plane was destroyed, officials said.
Dennis said two F-16s were working with ground troops at the time.
No distress call was made, he said. He would not say whether Houghton tried to eject from the plane.
Dennis said Hill temporarily ceased flight operations during the search but will resume today.
"The safety of our people is a top priority," Dennis said.
"We lost an irreplaceable member of our Air Force team last night," he said. "We'll do all we can to determine the cause and ensure we don't lose another in the same situation."
The 388th Range Squadron runs and maintains the training range to provide open-air exercises, including weapons testing, and to give fighters "a realistic training environment," according to Hill Air Force Base.
The range is "the largest overland safety footprint available in the Department of Defense for air crew and weapons testing," according to a description on Hill's Web site. The range supports air-to-ground, air-to-air and ground force exercises.
Dennis said the training mission Houghton died in was among the final exercises to be completed by his unit in preparation for combat. He said Houghton's death has hit his squadron hard.
"He was training for a very important mission," Dennis said of Houghton.
"The way we will honor him is to continue that professionalism. This squadron will get back in and go do their mission as they need to."
In the past 10 years, eight F-16s have crashed in Utah; three of the pilots died:
March 30, 2006 » Great Salt Lake; pilot ejected
Nov. 13, 2002 » Utah Test and Training Range; pilot killed
Oct. 25, 2002 » Utah Test and Training Range; pilot killed
Nov. 9, 1998 » Utah Test and Training Range; pilot killed
June 19, 1998 » Hill Air Force Base; pilot ejected
March 16, 1998 » Hill Air Force Base; pilot ejected
Jan. 8, 1998 » Utah Test and Training Range; pilot ejected
Jan. 7, 1998 » Utah Test and Training Range; pilot ejected
Since 1979, when Utah first got F-16s, there have been at least 46 Hill Air Force Base jets destroyed and 15 pilots killed. But few jets have crashed close to residential areas, and no civilians have been killed on the ground.