RIVERSIDE — The search for a missing Air National Guard fighter jet piloted by Dean Paul Martin, eldest son of entertainer Dean Martin, was suspended at nightfall Tuesday after rescuers in the air and on the ground failed to find a crash site on blustery Mt. San Gorgonio, authorities said.
The search, aided by helicopters, observation planes and 18 rescuers on foot, was to resume at daybreak on the rugged southern face of the 11,500-foot, snow-covered mountain, authorities said.
"We have not in any way, shape or form given up hope. The feeling down in the unit is we're going to find these guys," said Maj. Steve Mensik, a spokesman for the California Air National Guard. "They should be able to survive a week out there," Mensik said of the missing men.
Meanwhile, Martin's family was being kept advised of the progress of the search by Guard officials, a spokesman for the family said.
"We are watching, waiting and praying," said Warren Cowen, Dean Martin's publicist.
Hopes were raised briefly Tuesday when a helicopter crew picked up weak signals that the crew believed could have been from an emergency locater transmitter similar to one in all Phantom jets. The signal was emanating from a deep canyon on the mountain that was hit by thunderstorms and blizzards Tuesday afternoon, Hamilton said.
"We conducted an air search of the canyon but were unable to find anything," Hamilton said.
Martin, 35, a captain who has been in the Air National Guard since 1980, was piloting the F-4C Phantom fighter jet when it vanished from the radar screen about 10 minutes after taking off at 1:45 p.m. Saturday from March Air Force Base on a routine bombing practice mission, authorities said.
Also on board was Capt. Ramon Ortiz, 39, of Las Vegas, the jet's weapons system officer, authorities said. Both men were assigned to the 163rd Tactical Fighter Group at the base near Riverside.
Hamilton also said the Guard was investigating dozens of leads from civilians living on or near the peak in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Those leads included one from a man living at the 6,300-foot level who said he was awakened Saturday afternoon by the sound of a jet screaming low overhead, and another from a woman who said she saw smoke in the area, Hamilton said.