The Air National Guard pilot who died when his F-16 fighter jet crashed into a national forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Tuesday night was a husband, father of two, and a decorated combat veteran who had flown three tours of duty.
Authorities on Friday identified Air Force Capt. Durwood “Hawk” Jones, 37, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the pilot killed when the plane went down in the Hiawatha National Forest, according to the Associated Press.
“Our primary concern and focus right now is for the family of the pilot,” 115th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Bart Van Roo said at a press conference Friday morning, held at Truax Field at the Wisconsin Air National Guard Base in Madison.
The F-16 had flown out of the Truax base on Tuesday night. Planes from that base had been flying nighttime training missions earlier this week. Van Roo said Friday the 115th Fighter Wing planes are currently grounded in the aftermath of the crash. He had no information on when those pilots and aircraft would be allowed back in the sky.
Jones, who is survived by his wife and two children, joined the Air National Guard in 2011, according to the AP. He was deployed to Japan in 2015, then Korea in 2017 and later to Afghanistan in 2019. During the course of his service, Jones was awarded two Air Medals given to service members who have been either exposed to or faced significant risk of hostile action.
The plane went down about 9 p.m. Tuesday night, north of the U.P.’s Garden Peninsula and about 250 miles from the Wisconsin air base. Local authorities, search-and-rescue personnel and U.S. Forest Service workers responded initially to the area until members of the military and the 115th Fighter Wing arrived on scene on Wednesday. Local law enforcement closed roads and were in close contact with the military until they could arrive at the site. Rough terrain and poor cell phone service were challenges at the scene.
A small area of the Hiawatha National Forest remains closed as investigators continue their work at the crash site.
Van Roo said a three-phase investigation is underway to determine the cause and details of the crash. It will examine pre-flight activity and what occurred during the jet’s last flight. The comprehensive accident investigation board phase could take up to a year to complete, Van Roo said.
He declined to say whether the National Guard knew if Jones went down with the plane, or if he had ejected before the crash. During the initial response to the crash scene, local authorities had been given broad locations to search for the pilot if an ejection had occurred, according to local media reports and emergency scanner traffic from the scene.
The 115th Fighter Wing has about 1,200 members, including 500 full-time airmen, the AP said. The F-16s have been part of the unit since 1992. Looking to replace these aging aircraft, the 115th is expected to get the new F-35 fighter planes beginning in 2023.
The crash that killed Jones was the 115th’s third F-16 crash in 25 years. The previous two crashes were not fatal, the AP said.
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