UTAH TEST AND TRAINING RANGE — A pilot stationed at Hill Air Force Base was killed in an F-16 crash on Utah's western border late Monday.
Air Force Capt. George-Bryan Houghton, 28, of Candler, N.C., was on a routine training mission of the 388th Fighter Wing when the jet went down, according to WLOS-TV, an ABC affiliate in Asheville, N.C.
Houghton's father, also named George, said his son had a "great sense of love and family," and the father called his son a "spectacular young man."
"(He) will be sorely missed, not only by his family, but by anybody he's ever been around or anybody that ever knew him," the father told WLOS-TV.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, it's the second time the Houghton family has received bad news about a son in the military. George-Bryan Houghton's younger brother, Mark-Daniel Houghton, is still recovering from injuries he suffered in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, where he was an Air Force rescuer for downed pilots.
The family's third son, Patrick, is a student at the Air Force Academy, the Citizen-Times reported.
The crash site, where the fighter jet was destroyed on impact, is located about 35 miles south of Wendover, on Utah's western border, said Rhonda Elmore, a spokeswoman with the 75th Air Base Wing at Hill. Houghton, a member of the 421st Fighter Squadron, was participating in close-air support-mission training for upcoming combat when he went down, Air Force officials said.
"We lost an irreplaceable member of the Air Force team," Col. Scott Dennis, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, said at news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The cause of the crash was still unknown. Dennis said it was not known whether the pilot tried to eject, and officials were not aware of any distress calls from the aircraft. Another pilot flying nearby first reported the crash, he said.
Planes from the base's 388th Fighter Wing were grounded Tuesday following news of the crash at the 958,000-acre Utah Test and Training Range, which includes land in Utah and Nevada. Planes are scheduled to fly again Wednesday, Dennis said.
The crash happened about 10:25 p.m. Monday, and investigators from the base, which manages the range, reached the crash site about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. Dennis said the plane went down in a dry lake-bed area called Baker Strong Point.
Eventually, the base will convene an investigative board to determine the cause of the crash, according to a news release from Hill. Due to the remoteness of the area, Dennis said, it will take time to prepare investigators and secure the crash site.
The training range contains the largest block of supersonic air space in the United States.
The range allows pilots to fly over terrain that looks like Afghanistan to practice bombing runs and to strafe targets. All branches of the U.S. military, some foreign militaries and NASA train pilots there.
The most recent crash of an F-16 in Utah was March 30, 2006, when Lt. Jay Baer, of the 388th Fighter Wing's 421st Fighter Squadron, safely ejected before his plane crashed near Carrington Island in the Great Salt Lake. Baer received bumps and bruises, and his plane was destroyed on impact. A failed bearing assembly was later blamed for the malfunction that brought his plane down.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon costs $14.8 million to $18.8 million in 1998 dollars. The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Fighter Wing. The plane is prized by the Air Force for its maneuverability, versatility and performance.
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