TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE — The investigation into a F-16 crash 50 to 75 miles off the Panama City coast was ongoing Friday as officials revealed the name of the pilot who died during a routine training mission.


TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE — The investigation into a F-16 crash 50 to 75 miles off the Panama City coast was ongoing Friday as officials revealed the name of the pilot who died during a routine training mission.



In the moments following the crash, the Air Force and Coast Guard mobilized air and sea resources to locate wreckage of a downed F-16 Falcon C in the Gulf of Mexico. Tyndall Air Force Base officials announced Friday night Matthew J. LaCourse, 58, of Panama City Beach, had been found among the debris but did not release an official cause of the crash.



LaCourse was an Air Force civilian pilot assigned to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron. A native of San Antonio, LaCourse graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1978 and retired as a USAF lieutenant colonel in 2000 with more than 22 years service.



--- PILOT DIES IN F-16 CRASH



Lacourse reached 2,000 flying hours in the F-4 Phantom, a milestone many pilots rarely accomplish, in October of 2012. In addition to the hours spent in the F-4, he also has logged about 1,500 hours in the T-37 Tweet, AT-38 Talon, F-16C Fighting Falcon and E-9A, a medium-range turboprop.



The depth and breadth of his experience, as with many of Tyndall’s civilian pilots, was indispensable, according to Herman Bell, public affairschief of the 325 Fighter Wing. Bell said the base employs several civilian pilots to test and calibrate complex equipment.



“The experience of these seasoned pilots in specialty areas is absolutely essential,” Bell said.



LaCourse had a great love of flying with a goal of “flying and controlling aerial targets until I’m 60,” according to an earlier Tyndall newsletter. He later amended his response in an interview after logging his 2,000th hour in the F-4.



“I will fly as long as they will let me,” LaCourse said. “I have the best job. I don’t have to sit at a desk in an office; my desk is in the sky.”



Tyndall’s investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.



Air Force personnel lost contact with the F-16 pilot about 9:15 a.m. during what was a routine, very low-risk training mission, according to Col. Scott Ward, commander of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group to which the jet was assigned.



Officials didn’t say whether LaCourse reported any problems before contact was lost. Ward said the contact was with the other pilot on the mission, not with personnel on the ground, which is not unusual.



--- PILOT DIES IN F-16 CRASH



The F-16, which costs $18.8 million, according to an Air Force fact sheet, is equipped with an ejection seat, but officials said they didn’t know whether the pilot ejected.



Air Force officials said in a press release Thursday night that they will try to recover evidence from the crash to determine what caused it.



A board of officers will conduct an investigation, and no more information about the accident will be released until the investigation is complete, according to the Air Force. Thursday’s crash was at least the third one involving a Tyndall aircraft since 2012.