122nd airmen help with recovery of 104th Fighter Wing pilot

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The 122nd Fighter Wing has sent some airmen to assist the 104th Fighter Wing based out of Westfield, Mass. with recovery efforts of a pilot who crashed in Virginia Wednesday morning.

The pilot has been identified as Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr. He served with the 104th Fighter Wing as the full-time Wing Inspector General, responsible for the implementation of the Air Force Inspection System and as an F-15 instructor pilot, according to the 104th Fighter Wing’s website.

Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr. was flying an F-15C from the Westfield base to the Naval Air Station in New Orleans for a radar system upgrade, said Major Matthew Mutti, spokesperson for the 104th Fighter Wing. He indicated the pilot was flying over the Virginia area when he radioed in an in-flight emergency to the Washington Center Air Traffic Control out of Washington D.C. Maj. Mutti said minutes later, air traffic control lost his signal and learned Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr’s aircraft crashed near Deerfield Valley, Va. The 122nd Fighter Wing was called out for what was then a search and rescue.

“The A-10 pilots have headed out there to get a line of sight on the individual pilot,” said Lt. Christopher Myers, of the 122nd Fighter Wing. “[I can] assure you that these individuals are being searched for.”

Colonial James Keefe of the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield announced Thursday night that Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr. died from his injuries sustained by the crash. That changed the status of a search and rescue to a search and recovery. Maj. Mutti said the terrain in which Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr. crashed into has caused some difficulty in recovery efforts.

“The terrain involved is very mountainous,” he said. “It is also densely forested and because of that, it is in some ways, it’s been an unsafe area to operate out of.”

Multiple crews from different agencies are on the ground and in the air to continue recovery efforts of Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr.’s body and pieces of the plane. Maj. Mutti said he’s grateful for the 122nd Fighter Wing for answering the call to assist.

“Without question, the efforts of the men and women of the 122nd are greatly appreciated,” Maj. Mutti said. “We have a charge in the Air National Guard to never leave an airman behind. And the efforts they have put forth over the last 48 hours demonstrate that they live up to that value to that charge.”

It’s unclear when the 122nd airmen will return. Officials said airmen could be there as long as the recovery takes.

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