The Associated Press

Mass. Pilot In F-15 Crash Was Decorated Combat Veteran

This undated family photo provided by the Massachusetts Air National Guard shows Lt. Col. Morris "Moose" Fontenot Jr., who was killed Wednesday when the F-15 fighter plane he was piloting crashed in rural Western Virginia. (Family photo via Massachusetts Air National Guard/AP)

This undated family photo provided by the Massachusetts Air National Guard shows Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr., who was killed Wednesday when the F-15 fighter plane he was piloting crashed in rural Western Virginia. (Family photo via Massachusetts Air National Guard/AP)

BOSTON — The pilot killed in the crash of an F-15 jet this week in the remote Virginia mountains was a decorated combat veteran with 17 years of experience flying the planes, military officials in Massachusetts said Friday.

The pilot, Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr., joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard in February and had been serving with the 104th Fighter Wing as the inspector general and an F-15 instructor pilot.

Col. James Keefe, the fighter wing’s commander, said the death was announced “with a sense of profound sadness.”

Fontenot was flying the single-seat plane to New Orleans for a radar system upgrade when he crashed Wednesday in western Virginia. Officials say he reported an in-flight emergency before losing radio contact. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Fontenot, 41, of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was a 1996 Air Force Academy graduate. His active-duty career included deployments to the Middle East, and he earned honors including the Meritorious Service Medal. He had also served as a squadron commander in several locations and had assignments in Washington, D.C., Japan, Idaho, Florida and Alaska.

U.S. Air National Guard Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing, left, takes questions from reporters in front of Barnes Air National Guard Base, in Westfield, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

U.S. Air National Guard Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing, left, takes questions from reporters at Barnes Air National Guard Base, in Westfield. (Steven Senne/AP)

In Virginia, more than 100 local, state and federal officials were involved in the search for the pilot before officials announced Thursday night they had found evidence he did not survive. Brig. Gen. Robert Brooks, commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, said at a news conference in Deerfield, Va., that rescuers found evidence at the crash site that the pilot did not eject.

The jet crash shook residents but caused no injuries on the ground. Investigators said the jet hit the ground at high speed, leaving a deep crater and a large debris field in a heavily wooded area adjacent to a mountain in the George Washington National Forest.

There were no munitions aboard at the time of the crash, Keefe said. The plane was flying at about 30,000 to 40,000 feet when the pilot reported the emergency, he said.

F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds as high as 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.

A Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter aircraft at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass. An experienced pilot on a standard maintenance mission was missing Wednesday after his fighter jet crashed in the mountains of western Virginia. (Steven Senne/AP)

A Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter aircraft at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

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