ANCHORAGE - Military officials Thursday were preparing to set up camps off the Denali Highway in interior Alaska in preparation for a ground search for an Air Force pilot missing after a crash of an F-22 Raptor.
Air Force personnel planned to search south of the highway, a 134-mile mostly gravel road that runs east from Cantwell, near the entrance to Denali National Park, to Paxson on the Richardson Highway.
"We've got a pretty big logistical operation going on right now, getting equipment, supplies and personnel up to the crash site," said John Pennell, spokesman for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, on Thursday.
The F-22, a single-seat jet, took off Tuesday from the joint Air Force and Army base for a training run.
The aircraft and a second F-22 practiced individual "intercepts" and were nearing completion of the mission when one jet disappeared from ground radar tracking and from communications with the other aircraft at 7:40 p.m.
Searchers found the crash site Wednesday morning about 100 miles north of Anchorage and an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter was able to land with pararescuemen that afternoon.
An air search has continued, looking for a parachute or a fire started by the pilot.
The Air Force has not established whether the ejection seat was deployed.
"We have not recovered enough of the aircraft yet to determine exactly whether or not the ejection seat was used," Pennell said.
Airman 1st Class Christopher Gross said the Alaska Air National Guard was searching by helicopter and with an HC-130 airplane with the assistance of a RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned surveillance aircraft.
The Air Force flew gear Wednesday night to Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks.
"This morning, they moved to Fort Greely, where we are now transporting them to the site via Army helicopter," Pennell said.
The Air Force will establish a camp along the highway as close to the crash site as possible, plus a forward operating area from which the search will be launched, Pennell said. It also has permission to use seasonal lodges along the highway, he said.
State of Alaska transportation personnel will plow snow from roads.
An Air Force convoy and an Army convoy drove north Thursday from Anchorage but ran into bad weather and were expected to spend the night at Cantwell.
Pennell could not say how far the crash site is from the highway but said it was in a "remote, pretty rugged" area in what looked to be a creek bed between two mountains.
"It adds to the logistics of getting people there and sustaining them for a long search," he said.