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Air Force theory: Missing pilot intentionally flew off course


April 11, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 a.m. EST

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Air Force investigators are now operating under the theory that a missing fighter pilot deliberately flew his plane off course, senior Air Force officials told CNN.

Capt. Craig Button, 32, disappeared April 2 about 90 minutes after takeoff while flying in a three-plane formation across southern Arizona. Button and his A-10 Thunderbolt were last spotted on radar near Colorado's New York Mountain, about 100 miles west of Denver.

Radar reports, sightings plot path of missing A-10

Radar records indicate the attack jet flew on a straight path for 800 miles, then changed course near Vail, Colorado.

"I find it inconceivable that he could have been incapacitated and flown his plane along a straight line as long as he did," a top Air Force official told CNN Thursday.

Missing pilot map

According to officials, Button apparently was distraught after a recent visit by his parents.

Investigators are looking at several theories, including one that Button, described as a "gung-ho fighter pilot," may have committed suicide by flying his plane into the side of a mountain.

Investigators are also considering that Button might have jettisoned the A-10's four 500-pound bombs, which could explain witness descriptions of smoke seen on a mountainside.

Officials also said they are convinced they will find the plane crashed, with Button's body still in the cockpit.

High winds, low clouds and the prospect of more snow have hampered the search around New York Mountain. On Thursday, the wintry weather forced officials to temporarily call off the search.

Maj. Frank Gose, a Civil Air Patrol pilot, said that even if Button managed to survive a possible crash, staying alive in the snow and frigid temperatures would be a tough challenge.


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