Local News

Search For Pope C-130 Engine Continues

Posted September 7, 2001 4:02 a.m. EDT

— The search continues for a missing engine from an Air Force C-130 airplane.

The 3,500 pound engine caught on fire last night during a flight, then fell off. No one on the ground was hurt, and the plane landed safely. But where the engine landed is still a mystery. Now, looking for the engine in rural swampy area is the challenge.

Military aircraft spent the day searching 25 miles southwest of the Fayetteville airport in Robeson County, but did not find anything. Cumberland and Hoke counties were also searched.

Safety investigators are documenting this extremely rare case -- so rare, Air Force pilots do not even train for this kind of emergency.

The experienced pilot shut the engine down, which is not unusual when one is on fire. But then the engine fell off.

"I think where we fly, during low level training missions, there are a lot of trees, and it's a rural area, so I believe the probability of it going through a roof were nil," says Col. Bruce Brooks of the 43rd Operations Group.

Pope Air Force Base officials are thankful no one on the ground was hurt, and that the 10 crewmembers landed the plane safely.

The C-130 is considered a safe airplane. Retired Air Force General and WRAL military expert Robert Springer says even this plane, a 1968 model and the oldest Pope AFB flies, is still reliable. Overall, C-130's have flown more than 15 million flying hours since 1955, with just one major accident about every 100,000 flying hours.

"You would have to fly 11 years, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for eleven years before that accident occurred," Springer said.

"I've been in the Air Force for 24 years and I can't remember us losing an engine. Our maintenance record is good. We've flown 1000 hours, we have no safety incidents at Pope," said Brooks. He said he is optimistic that the engine will be recovered.

Despite the damage to the $12 million plane, the Air Force plans to fix it at the airport and then fly it back to Pope.

"It appears to me that there is no damage itself to the wing. You can tell by seeing the hydraulic lines and hoses. It actually looks like it was a pretty clean break from the wing," Brooks said.

The C-130 is a 1960s vintage plane used primarily for tactical missions. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for air dropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.

This is the second engine problem for a C-130 in two days. On Tuesday, a C-130 carrying 30 people had to make an emergency landing after it dropped part of an engine into a neighborhood in Newfoundland, Canada. No one was hurt. The military transport plane was on a flight to Massachusetts from Europe.

WRAL tried to get the maintenance records from the C-130 to see if it had had problems with the engine in the past, but immediately after the emergency landing, the records were handed over to the Safety Investigation Board, and are not available. The investigation into the incident will be finished within 30 days.