STEUBEN, Mich. - A Wisconsin-based fighter jet crashed in a national forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while on a training mission and searchers were looking Wednesday for the pilot, who was the only person aboard, authorities said.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison crashed about 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs said in a statement.
The cause of the crash, as well as the status of the pilot, weren't immediately known, the statement said. The plane went down in Hiawatha National Forest, about 250 miles (402 kilometers) northeast of the base.
“We are a close-knit family and when an incident like this occurs, every member in our organization feels it,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, 115th Fighter Wing commander. “Right now the safety of our pilot along with search and rescue efforts are our top priority, and we will continue to pray for the pilot’s safe return.”
The 115th Fighter Wing participated in a coordinated search effort with local emergency responders, the U.S. Coast Guard and other government agencies overnight. Search and rescue efforts on the ground, in the air, and in the water continued, the department said Wednesday.
The crash site is in Delta County, which is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was initially secured by local emergency responders, but military personnel and safety and security personnel from the 115th Fighter Wing have now responded, the department said.
Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald said the crash occurred in the county’s northeastern corner in a rural area within Hiawatha National Forest, which spans about 879,000 acres (355,718 hectares), according to the forest’s website.
“It’s a very remote area with no cellphone service,” he said.
The closest community to the crash site is the small village of Steuben, located in adjacent Schoolcraft County, Oswald said. The sheriff’s office has blocked off local roads in the crash area, where he and his deputies did not see any fire or flames in the crash area overnight.
The crash remains under investigation Wednesday, authorities said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers tweeted Wednesday morning that he was “devastated” when he heard about the crash and both he and his wife were praying for the pilot's safe return.
An F-16 launched from Truax Field in 2011 plunged into a vacant house in Adams County, Wisconsin. The pilot ejected safely but fire and smoke forced 50 people to evacuate their homes.
The Air Force announced in April that Truax will receive a fleet of 18 new F-35 fighter planes to replace its 21 aging F-16s in 2023. Madison residents who live near the base have complained that the new jets will be so loud they won't be able to live in their homes.