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NORAD Fighters Escort Troubled Aircraft

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2009 – Two F-16 fighter jets intercepted a civilian aircraft this morning near Muncie, Ind., at the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s direction and escorted it and its unconscious pilot until they crashed, NORAD officials reported.

NORAD scrambled the Air National Guard F-16s at about 9:30 a.m. Mountain time to intercept a Mooney, single-engine aircraft when it failed to respond to radio calls. The F-16 pilots reported the civilian pilot appeared to be unresponsive. They escorted the aircraft until it crashed at about 10:40 a.m. Mountain time in a rural area of Randolph County, Ind., Air Force Capt. Sharbe Clark, a NORAD spokesman said.

The civilian aircraft was not believed to be part of any terrorist activity, Clark said. It left Grand Rapids, Mich., on a post-maintenance flight and had been in contact with ground air traffic controllers before the communication lines stopped.

The F-16s escorted the aircraft, trying to re-establish communications with the pilot and monitoring its erratic flight as it continued to lose altitude, Clark said.

First responders and local law enforcement responded to the scene. No information is yet available about the fate of the pilot, and no injuries have been reported on the ground, according to Rachel Meyer of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Meyer called military interceptions an important element of homeland security.

Military interceptions typically are conducted to get the identified aircraft to re-establish communications with the local Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers and to direct them to land safely.

However, in cases like today’s, the escorts monitor the aircraft’s location and altitude and alert anyone in the area to help control the situation, Meyer said.

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