A Swiss airforce pilot has been found dead following the crash of an F/A-18 military jet on Monday, the defence ministry has confirmed.
"The army's leadership express their heartfelt condolences to his relatives," the defence ministry said. The 27-year-old deceased pilot's family is being cared for by army specialists, the statement added.
An investigation into the accident has been launched and an operation has been mounted to recover the debris of the wreckage that was found in the mountains near the Susten Pass on Tuesday. The crash site is located in a deep basin, with steep glacier slopes.
Army helicopters had been active since Monday afternoon to help look for the missing one-seater fighter jet and pilot. Both had disappeared earlier that day flying over the mountains in central Switzerland.
However, the search had been hampered by bad weather conditions that had made it impossible to access the crash site on foot.
The single-seat aircraft had been participating in a training mission with another jet in a thick layer of clouds. Last contact with the missing pilot was at 16:05 pm Swiss time on Monday.
After taking off from the Meiringen military airport at 16:01 pm, the missing pilot had responded to a radio call as expected at 16:05. However, he failed to reply to a second call. He and the other F/A-18 Hornet pilot were practising manoeuvres for a potential engagement with an F-5 Tiger aircraft.
Both the aircraft and the ejector seat were equipped with transmitters. However, no transmitter signal has been detected, and commander and former F/A-18 pilot Pierre de Goumoëns said the devices are not foolproof.
Commander Felix Stoffel of the Swiss Air Force had earlier said that flying in mountainous regions is clearly more dangerous than in flat areas but that Swiss pilots are trained to manoeuvre through the Alps. He added that the takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of any flight, and that the crash occurred during the take-off phase from the nearby airfield at Meiringen.
Fighter jet accidents
Just last month, two Swiss air force jets intercepted an Israeli El Al airliner near Schaffhausen after an anonymous bomb threat. The Swiss Air Force is currently ramping up its coverage to protect Swiss air space. The goal is to provide 24/7 coverage with two armed jets by 2020.
Critics have questioned whether the recent increased demand is leading to more accidents. The incident is the third time the Swiss Air Force has lost one of its F/A 18 jets in the last three years. Last October, a two-seat F/A-18 crashed in France during a training flight, injuring the pilot, while another F/A-18 crashed in 2013.
In June, an F5 fighter jet from Patrouille Suisse crashed in the Netherlands after two jets touched during a training flight there. The pilot was able to escape using the ejector seat.
Over the past 20 years, there have been 12 accidents involving Swiss Air Force jets or helicopters, killing 21 people.
Current fighter jet fleet
In May 2014, Swiss voters rejected the defence ministry’s $3.5 billion (CHF3.4 billion) order for 22 new Gripen fighter jets from Swedish defence company Saab AB.