9 Believed Dead After Military Plane Crashes in Georgia
Posted May 2, 2018 11:18 p.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2018 11:22 p.m. EDT
ATLANTA — Nine people were believed killed Wednesday when an Air National Guard transport plane crashed near the Georgia coast, prompting a new inquiry into one of the military’s most widely used aircraft.
The plane, a WC-130, crashed on a clear morning close to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. It was the second time in less than a year that a version of the C-130, a workhorse of military aviation, was involved in a fatal episode.
“To our knowledge, at this point, there are no survivors,” Gena Bilbo, a spokeswoman for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday night.
The military said that the plane was from the 156th Airlift Wing, a unit of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, and that it was bound for Arizona when it crashed.
“The airplane just took off and quickly fell,” said Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera, the adjutant general of Puerto Rico, who said nine people were listed on the flight’s manifest.
Officials did not publicly name any of the people aboard the plane who were confirmed or believed dead, except to say they were all Puerto Ricans. Rivera said that the National Guard had not yet made official notifications to family members but that relatives had been learning about the crash on their own.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló of Puerto Rico said on Twitter that the episode was an “unfortunate accident,” an assessment that the military echoed in its initial statement. A formal investigation into the cause of the crash will take months.
The plane, which had been in Savannah for about a month for maintenance, came down at an intersection on Georgia State Highway 21, in an area of woods and light industry just northeast of the airport grounds. A photograph released by the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association showed the tail of the plane, with an American flag on its vertical stabilizer, lying next to the road and engulfed by orange flames and black smoke. Another image of the aftermath of the crash showed a sprawling scene of debris and charred roadway.
Video images posted on Twitter appeared to show the plane diving headlong toward the ground, and then a plume of smoke arising from an explosion. The user who posted the video, Scott Cohen, wrote that it had come from a security camera at his business in Garden City, Georgia, near the crash site.
“Please join me in thoughts and prayers for the victims, their families and the great men and women of the National Guard,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.
Aircraft in the C-130 family are regarded as among the military’s safest. They were developed after the Pentagon found World War II-era planes like the C-47 to be insufficient during the Korean War. The manufacturer, then known as Lockheed, responded with a design that has won renown for its versatility, and it is now used in about 60 countries.
Still, Wednesday’s crash was a new blemish on the plane’s record, coming almost 10 months after 15 Marines and a sailor died when an air tanker version of the plane, a KC-130T, plunged into farmland in Mississippi.
The inquiry into that crash has not been completed. A Marine general said last year that it appeared “something went wrong at cruise altitude.”
Speaking in Carolina, Puerto Rico, near San Juan, Rivera signaled concern about the age and condition of the unit’s fleet.
“It’s well known that the airplanes of Puerto Rico’s 156th Wing are among the oldest in the inventory of the nation, and they’re airplanes that are more than 60 years old,” the general said. He added that the plane would not have been cleared to fly on Wednesday if it had not been deemed airworthy.
In Georgia, where the governor observed a moment of silence for the crash victims at a bill signing in Statesboro, officials said they expected the inquiry into the crash to be protracted, as well as potentially disruptive to day-to-day life in the surrounding Port Wentworth community outside Savannah. Authorities cut electric power to the area of the crash, suspended service on a rail line that runs next to Highway 21 and warned that a stretch of the roadway could remain closed for weeks.
“As far as we know, there were no cars hit in this crash,” Bilbo said. “It is an absolute miracle at that time of day and that intersection.”