The midair crash of two F-16 fighter jets off the S.C. coast offered a poignant reminder Friday that flying military aircraft is a dangerous business even during training missions.
One pilot from Shaw Air Force Base and his airplane remained missing Friday evening as a small fleet of military and Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, as well as law enforcement and commercial shippers, and even satellites searched the ocean 40 miles off Folly Beach near Charleston.
Missing is Capt. Nicholas Giglio, a member of the 77th Fighter Squadron. He has not been seen or heard from since the incident happened at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
"We remain hopeful," said Col. Joseph Guastella Jr., commander of the 20th Fighter Wing based at Shaw.
The Coast Guard reported debris and an oil slick were spotted off the coast that might provide evidence of where the missing plane went down, but nothing further.
The search for Giglio is being hampered because a tracking beacon mounted on the pilot's seat has not been detected. Authorities also say they don't know if Giglio managed to eject from his plane.
"We do not have any indications that the beacon went off," Guastella said. "It does not necessarily mean he did not get out. It is possible that he left the aircraft, and the beacon didn't work, or did not go off, and that is why we are continuing the search efforts."
Giglio's plane was equipped with gear to help him survive in a mishap at sea, authorities said. The water temperature in the area was about 75 degrees, which officials said is survivable for at least 24 hours.
Giglio's squadron, which is preparing to deploy to Iraq early next year, took the day off from flying Friday.
"Naturally those that work with Capt. Giglio every day are pretty shook up about it," Guastella said. "It's the right thing to do to stand down, take a day off from our normal routine and reflect on what happened, reflect on the loss."
The time also would be used to piece together evidence needed for the Air Force investigation, he added.
Guastella declined to release personal information, including hometowns, of Giglio or the second pilot, Capt. Lee Bryant, who was involved in the mishap.
The Associated Press reported Giglio graduated from Lacey Township High School in New Jersey in 1995. His mother, Helen Giglio, is a special education teacher at a district elementary school.
After the crash, Bryant managed to fly his F-16 safely to Charleston Air Force Base. After being checked by doctors, Bryant returned to Shaw, Guastella said.
Bryant's plane was "damaged significantly, but it was still flyable," Guastella said. "By the nature of the accident, a great deal of damage must have been done to Capt. Giglio's plane to make it unflyable."
In the past 10 years, there have been four mishaps involving Shaw planes. One pilot died in 2000 during a crash at a Texas air show.
Thurday's mishap occurred as Giglio and Bryant were nearing the end of a "routine night training mission" scheduled to last less than 90 minutes, Guastella said.
Pilots usually fly training missions two to five times a week, said the squadron's commander, Lt. Col. Lance Kildron.
Both pilots were trained and qualified to fly with night-vision goggles, Kildron said.
Training, whether it's during the day or night, is essential for pilots, observers say.
"Every single day, airmen at Shaw Air Force Base train to be ready to fight our nation's wars and protect our interests," Guastella said. "Our pilots train like we expect to fight, and this mission was no different up until the mishap."
Pilots don't approach their training casually.
"Military aviation has some measure of danger associated with it," said Lt. Col. Mike Richardson, alert force commander at Shaw.
Every measure to mitigate that danger is taken, Richardson said.
Training over the ocean is beneficial because the planes, capable of zooming along at nearly three times the speed of sound, can fly higher and faster over the water, he said.
Although the pilots were flying at night, the planes are equipped with electronic gear that helps determine which way is up and down, and which direction they are headed, Richardson added.
Neither plane was loaded with live ordnance, Kildron said.
About 80 F-16 fighters are based at Shaw and assigned to three squadrons. Shaw is the largest F-16 base in the Air Force.
Last week, another Shaw squadron, the 79th, deployed 200 airmen to Afghanistan.