Wreckage from missing US warplane found in Rockies

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The US warplane that disappeared during a training exercise on 2 April seemed finally to have been located yesterday, when a search aircraft spotted wreckage 12,500 feet up in the Rocky Mountains near Vail in Colorado. Melting snow had exposed pieces of painted metal jutting out from a steep mountainside.

An air force spokesman said he was "99.9 per cent sure" that the missing A-10 had been found. The discovery laid to rest some of the more fanciful speculation about the plane's disappearance, which included abduction by space aliens and the pilot's defection to an illegal extremist militia group.

The discovery was made less than 48 hours before the search, which has involved some of the most sophisticated US aeronautical technology, was due to be abandoned.

There was still no trace of the pilot, however, and the air force said that extreme care would have to be applied to planning for any ground search because of the difficulty of the terrain. The operation will be complicated by the possibility that the plane crashed with four 500lb bombs intact.

According to some reports, the bombs may have exploded on impact. Seismic records studied by the air force, however, showed no evidence of any explosions in the region around the time the plane would have run out of fuel.

Even if the wreckage is that of the missing A-10, there remains the mystery of why the pilot, Captain Craig Button, whose lifetime ambition had apparently been to become a fighter pilot, broke away from his training formation and flew the plane to the Rockies. The original theory, disputed by his parents and neighbours, was that he might have committed suicide because of family worries.