Swiss jet wreckage found in Alps
By Ofonime Essien
An F/A-18 fighter jet. The single-seater aircraft disappeared shortly after takeoff. Photograph: Sandro Campardo/AP
The wreckage of an F/A-18 fighter jet that went missing over the Swiss Alps yesterday has been found in the mountains near the Susten Pass, army officials have said. Searches for the missing pilot were suspended overnight because of dangerous conditions.
“[The crash site] is located in a deep basin, with steep glacier slopes,” Commander Felix Stoffel of the Swiss Air Force told the media on Tuesday afternoon. “We saw a dark rock face, and debris was partly visible.”
Three army helicopters took off on Monday afternoon to help look for the missing one-seater fighter jet and pilot. Both had disappeared earlier that day flying over the mountains in central Switzerland.
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A statement by the Federal Department of Defence issued on Tuesday afternoon said the wreckage had been spotted by one of the helicopter pilots. However, it was not possible to access the crash site on foot due to poor weather conditions.
Mountain rescue specialists planned to gain access via helicopter when the weather cleared. The search for the missing pilot continued until about 8 pm on Tuesday, when army officials said bad weather, snow and avalanches posed too much of a risk to the search party. They planned to resume the search around 6 am Wednesday morning.
Officials said on Tuesday that no more details about any suspected cause of the crash would be communicated for now. Stoffel said that flying in mountainous regions is clearly more dangerous than in flat areas but that Swiss pilots are trained to manoeuvre through the Alps. He added that the takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of any flight, and that the crash occurred during the take-off phase from the nearby airfield at Meiringen.
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Both the aircraft and the ejector seat were equipped with transmitters.
However, no transmitter signal has been detected, and commander and former F/A-18 pilot Pierre de Goumoëns said the devices are not foolproof.
“These transmitters are fairly robust, but they have their limits,” he told the media. “Their purpose is to locate the pilot if he used his ejector seat. They are not made to survive a crash against a rock face.”
‘Hopes and prayers’
On Tuesday morning an air exclusion zone was set up between cantons Uri and Bern and 19 mountain rescue specialists were reported helping air rescue teams and Zurich police search for the missing pilot and plane. The teams are carrying out their search on foot at altitudes of over 3,000 metres (9,842 feet). The search was hampered by bad weather on Monday evening.
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The single-seat aircraft had been participating in a training mission with another jet in a thick layer of clouds. Last contact with the missing pilot was at 16:05 pm Swiss time on Monday.
“We hope and pray,” said Swiss Air Force Commander Aldo Schellenberg when asked about the pilot’s chances of survival at a media conference in Bern on Monday evening. Schellenberg said his thoughts were with the pilot and his family.
After taking off from the Meiringen military airport at 16:01 pm, the missing pilot had responded to a radio call as expected at 16:05. However, he failed to reply to a second call. He and the other F/A-18 Hornet pilot were practising manoeuvres for a potential engagement with an F-5 Tiger aircraft.
Source: Swiss Info
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