Pilot Dies in Michigan F-16 Fighter Jet Crash

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Wisconsin Air National Guard, F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Wisconsin Air National Guard, F-16 Fighting Falcon preforms practice missions using an inert, 500 pound bomb at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 13, 2016. (U.S. Army/Spc. John Russell)

The pilot of an F-16 Fighting Falcon that crashed earlier this week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been found dead, the Air National Guard announced Thursday.

The aircraft, assigned to the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing, out of Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison, crashed around 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Hiawatha National Forest, roughly 300 miles northeast of the base, officials said in a Facebook post.

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"We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss," 115th Fighter Wing commander Col. Bart Van Roo said in the announcement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. The 115th Fighter Wing and the entire Wisconsin National Guard stands with the pilot's family as we grieve the loss of a great Airman, and patriot."

The pilot's identity is being withheld until family can be notified, the Guard said.

The crash happened during a routine training mission Tuesday evening. Officials with the 115th had said on Sunday that the wing was conducting night drills Monday through Thursday, and that residents should expect to see aircraft flying in the area.

Local emergency responders, the Coast Guard, additional Air Force units and other government agencies initiated immediate search-and-rescue efforts on the ground, in the air, and in the water following the crash.

The crash is under investigation.

"We are an extremely close knit group at the fighter wing, [and] the loss of one of our own brings immeasurable sadness to every member of our organization," Roo said.

In June, 1st Lt. David Schmitz, of the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, died after attempting to land at the end of an F-16 nighttime qualification sortie. The Air Force found that Schmitz could not recover the jet after he severely damaged the aircraft's landing gear upon touching down, but added that there were additional contributing factors that led to his death -- including an ejection attempt that failed because of a seat malfunction.

In 2017, the Air Force announced that Truax Field would join Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont and Dannelly Field in Alabama to host the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The base is slated to receive the stealth fighter jet in 2023.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Wisconsin-Based F-16 Crashes in Michigan During Training

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