The Mysterious Disappearance of an A-10 Warthog – What Happened to Captain Button?

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Craig Button was a 32-year-old USAF pilot who died in 1997. 25 years later, the manner of his death is still in question.

Training Mission and Disappearance

On April 2, 1997, Button was on a training mission with two other A-10s. This session was the first time Button was going to use live rounds. That day, his A-10 had 60 magnesium flares, 120 chaff canisters, 575 30mm rounds inside the Avenger, and four 500lb Mk-82 bombs. As he approached near Gila Bend, Arizona, Button broke formation and flew 800 miles off course.

It wasn’t clear where Button was headed then. He zigzagged across Arizona and Colorado until crashing into Gold Dust Peak. As he went rogue, his aircraft was seen by multiple observers on the ground. A statement from an off-duty pilot led the USAF to believe that the A-10 was still manually controlled due to it maneuvering around bad weather.


Search and Rescue

The presence of snow in the mountains did not help the search and rescue teams in finding the crash site. It was reported that the site received 3 feet of snow on the day of the crash. Because of this, they had to wait weeks for the weather to clear up and get warmer. 

The search was conducted by the USAF, Colorado Air National Guard, and the Civil Air Patrol. Yet, it still took them 20 days to identify metal fragments in the snow on Gold Dust Peak. The OH-58 helicopter that spotted it had to wait for A-10s to identify the aircraft. Soon after, pararescue jumpers were deployed to the site.

In total, 12 people who knew mountain safety were hired to scour through the wreck for most of that summer.

Credit: NARA Public Archive

Theories About Death

Button’s death was and still is a mystery today. The USAF had no possible way of knowing if carbon monoxide poisoning was the issue or even pilot error. According to his friends, his favorite hobby was skiing and he loved visiting mountains to ski. His love for the mountains was also well-documented by the Air Force. He’s had records of disobeying orders by breaking formation and flying close to the mountains.

However, any mysterious death will be found by conspiracy theorists trying to push their agendas. Some theorized that he saw a UFO and was abducted. Some said he planned to bomb the North American Air Defense Command. Some even said he sold the bombs and ran away to hide. One theory does seem to be widely accepted by many, though. 

Weeks before the crash, Button proposed to his girlfriend but was rejected. His friends remarked that this changed him and he was never the same since. On the day before his last mission, he called his ex-girlfriend but she didn’t pick up. His mother might have also played a part in adding to his problems. She was a pacifist and always disapproved of Button joining the Air Force. Button’s roommate noticed a small altercation between Button and his mother before the mission.

What About The Bombs?

With the cause of death most likely solved, one thing still remains a mystery. The four 500lb Mk-82 bombs are still nowhere to be found. Although, there were dozens of people who reported hearing loud crashes in northern Arizona and Aspen, Colorado. The only caveat is that there was no physical evidence to prove those reports. Still, having more than four dozen reports have got to make it somewhat credible, right?

Credit: Wikimedia