Air Force examines personal relationships of pilot who killed himself

Associated Press/November 18, 1998
By Patrick Graham

PHOENIX -- The father of an Air Force pilot who flew his jet into a Colorado mountain denounced speculation Wednesday that his son struggled with his sexual identity before killing himself.

A report by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, obtained by the Tucson Citizen, examines in part the sexuality of Capt. Craig Button and chronicles interviews with his closest friends, most of them women. The psychological autopsy report also looks at Button's spiritual mindset.

The report seeks to shed some light on Button's personal life -- which was questioned in a newspaper report late last year. The Citizen had reported that the military was investigating the possibility Button may have been homosexual and distraught he could be expelled from the military.

"My wife and I made a pact following our son's death that we would never talk to the media," retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Button said in a telephone interview from his Long Island, N.Y. home.

But before ending the phone call, Button interjected: "They are printing lies and speculation."

The Air Force report, however, never offers a definitive answer as to why the 32-year-old Button took his life. The Citizen on Wednesday published parts of the report.

"We conducted about 200 interviews during the investigation," said Maj. Steve Murray, spokesman for the Office of Special Investigations. "No credible evidence to support theories of homosexuality, financial difficulties, family conflicts, militia ties or any other possible motivation has been discovered."

Murray said there are no plans to reopen the investigation. "(The Air Force) thoroughly explored all potentially relevant areas of Captain Button's life in an effort to better understand the circumstances which may have contributed to this event," he added.

Button's A-10 attack jet, which carried four 500-pound bombs from Davis- Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, broke formation during a training mission with two other planes April 2, 1997. For three hours he flew an erratic 500-mile course that ended when he crashed into the 13,000-foot Gold Dust Peak near Eagle, Colo.

The report notes a phone call the night before Button's exercise with live bombs on the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Ranger near Gila Bend. The April 1 call appeared to have upset Button, who refused to discuss it with his roommate, the newspaper said.

"Something about the last few days and troubling telephone calls was enormously upsetting to him," the report said. "We may never know why he was in such much turmoil or with whom he talked."

The report makes reference to homosexual allegations and a newspaper story about a call from a man who claimed to be Button's gay lover. The call had been made just days before Button's disappearance.

The report also focuses on Button's reputed unrequited love with a woman in the Air Force he met as an ROTC cadet at the New York Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1990, the newspaper said.

Though Button and the woman were stationed at different Air Force bases, the two kept in contact through letters in the months after a 1991 ski trip, the report said.

But the woman said she never considered having a monogamous relationship with Button.

Button called the woman the afternoon before his final flight, but she had to cut the conversation short because she was at work, the report said.

The final area the report looks into is Button's religious beliefs and possible conflicts with his job as a fighter pilot. His mother is a devout Jehovah's Witness opposed to killing, the newspaper said.

His parents were in Tucson days before his death. They told investigators they had talked with their son about the end of the world. Button then asked for more information on the subject.

Investigators found in Button's bed-stand the Bible and a religious pamphlet, which described "God asking a father to sacrifice his only son on a burning pyre at the side of a mountain," the report said.

"Capt. Craig Button intended to die or be rescued by divine intervention of God at the last possible moment," the report said. "Did that struggle to free himself of his mother's religious beliefs collapse at the moment of truth? Here he was -- the next step in the mission was to become a full- fledged 'bomb-dropping people killer.' Until now, flying was an art, not a killing science."

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