Nellis Air Force Base
Thursday, June 30, 2011 | 10:50 a.m.
The pilot of a U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon jet that crashed near Caliente earlier this week didn't survive, officials at Nellis Air Force Base said today.
U.S. Air Force officials said search and rescue teams found conclusive evidence that the pilot didn't eject from the aircraft before the crash, which occurred about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday about 20 miles west of Caliente on Bureau of Land Management property.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s immediate family, Air Force family, and friends during this difficult time," Brig. Gen. T.J. O’Shaughnessy, 57th Wing commander, said in a statement.
Air Force officials weren't releasing the name and unit of the pilot on Thursday, but the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald identified him as Air Force Capt. Eric Ziegler, 30, a 1999 graduate of West Fargo High School in North Dakota.
Ziegler leaves behind a 9-month-old daughter and his wife, Sarah, a North Dakota native who also works for the Air Force in Las Vegas, according to the Herald.
The fighter jet from Nellis was participating in an air-to-air combat training mission when it went down.
“We have started an investigation into this mishap, but we are in the very early stages of this investigation,” O’Shaughnessy said. “For the next several weeks, a trained investigation board will focus their exclusive efforts on collecting and protecting evidence from the scene and gathering and analyzing all relevant data with the specific purpose of determining the cause so we may prevent future mishaps.”
The Herald reported Ziegler, a 2003 Air Force Academy graduate, had served two tours in Iraq, and started on both offense and defense and played on special teams on his high school football team.
“He was a tremendous competitor,” Jay Gibson, his high school football coach, told the Herald. “He really wanted to win, but whether he won or lost, he always had a smile on his face.”
The F-16 is a multi-role fighter that is capable of both air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. The F-16 was designed with proven reliable systems from other aircraft, such as the F-15 and the F-111, according to an Air Force fact sheet on the plane. The aircraft is controlled via a "fly-by-wire" system in which electrical wires relay pilot commands, replacing cables and linkage controls.
The $18.8 million plane, which is powered by a single jet engine, can reach speeds of 1,500 mph and has a range of more than 2,000 miles, the Air Force reports.