Local crew found crash site
The Kingman Department of Public Safety Air Rescue team got an unusual request last month. The U.S. Air Force asked the department for help in locating a missing aircraft.
"It's not a call we get often," pilot Scott Williams said. "It's unusual for us to deal with a military incident."
The military has a good safety record, he said. Also, it usually does not call for assistance in searching for a downed aircraft, but in this case the search area was so large that other agencies were called in.
According to Air Force officials, around noon on March 14, 2nd Lt. David Mitchell, 26, of Amherst, Ohio, was conducting air-to-air training with another F-16 fighter pilot when his plane disappeared.
Mitchell was part of the 62nd Flight Squadron, one of eight squadrons stationed at the base.
Williams and his crew were returning from a call in Flagstaff around 3:40 p.m. when they were told to report to Luke Air Force Base. The crew picked up fuel in Lake Havasu City and responded immediately. They arrived at the base around 4:40 p.m.
Williams said helicopters and fixed wing planes from all over the state were involved in the search, which encompassed hundreds of miles and many hours.
Each aircraft was assigned a section about two miles square to search, he said. Williams' crew was assigned to a section of ridgeline after a satellite image identified a hot spot. They started skimming the earth between 10 and 500 feet off the ground looking for any signs of the plane.
"It was a possibility that the pilot got out. We didn't know if he was alive or dead," Williams said.
"Our only focus was to get him medical assistance as soon as possible," he said.
It was past 10 p.m. when the crew, using night vision goggles and infrared radar, finally spotted the wreckage of the plane. Williams wasn't sure that the crew had found the crash scene.
"It's very difficult to see at night," he said. "It was completely vaporized. It was just a crater. It wasn't burning or anything."
The wreckage was located 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. Ground crews were dispatched to the scene, and it wasn't until March 15 that officials determined that Mitchell had been killed in the crash.