By Avi Selk and Keith McMillan, The Washington Post
A Puerto Rico Air National Guard plane crashed shortly after taking off in Georgia on Wednesday, killing all nine airmen on board.
The plane, a C-130-type cargo plane from Puerto Rico’s 156th Airlift Wing, had been in Savannah for maintenance and took off about 11:30 a.m., bound for Arizona.
The Associated Press reported that the decades-old plane was due to be retired in Arizona, though a National Guard spokesman would not confirm that at a news conference Thursday morning.
(The military is investigating why an aging cargo plane making its final military flight nosedived into a Georgia highway on Wednesday, killing all nine people on board. Courtesy of CNN and YouTube. Posted on May 3, 2018)
The plane made it only about a mile from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport before it nose-dived toward a state highway intersection and exploded into a ball of fire and black smoke, which could be seen across the northern suburbs of the city.
All the victims served in Puerto Rico’s National Guard, officials said. Their names have not yet been released, and the military has only begun to investigate the cause of the crash.
Col. Pete Boone, a spokesman for Georgia’s Air National Guard, denied that the plane was more than 60 years old, as one of his counterparts in Puerto Rico had told reporters.
Boone said at a news conference on Thursday that the C-130 was built in the late 1970s and had been in Georgia for routine maintenance.
Regardless, the colonel said, “the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and the whole Puerto Rico community has been through quite a lot over the last few months.”
Hours after the crash, Isabelo Rivera, an adjutant general of Puerto Rico’s National Guard, described the island’s air fleet as old and in disrepair.
Of the unit’s six C-130-type planes, he said, two were inoperable and the one destroyed Wednesday had been scheduled for retirement.
“The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes on [National Guard] inventory,” Rivera told the Associated Press after the crash.
“This pains us,” he added.
(The planned final flight of the 1950s-era military cargo plane ended in disaster. The C-130 aircraft plunged to the ground Wednesday and exploded into flames on a busy Georgia highway. All nine crew members aboard were killed. Courtesy of CBS This Morning and YouTube. Posted on May 3, 2018)
Whatever its exact age, the destroyed C-130 had been used to rescue Americans stranded in the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean late last year, the AP reported.
Days later, Hurricane Maria slammed into the 156th Airlift Wing’s home base in Puerto Rico, and the plane subsequently transported supplies from the U.S. mainland to the ruined island.
Nine airmen from the Puerto Rico National Guard were killed in yesterday’s military plane crash, officials say pic.twitter.com/k0zKzi4bGc
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) May 3, 2018
All nine crew members killed Wednesday had helped with the hurricane recovery effort, the AP wrote, even as the 156th struggled to rebuild itself.
“Our wing was devastated by two back-to-back Category-4 hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, and we’re still in that process continuing to work with higher-level command to get us through the recovery phases and rebuild the wing,” Col. Raymond Figueroa, wing commander of the 156th, said in a military news release last month.
Now his unit will mourn again.
I have been briefed on the U.S. C-130 “Hercules” cargo plane from the Puerto Rico National Guard that crashed near Savannah Hilton Head International Airport. Please join me in thoughts and prayers for the victims, their families and the great men and women of the National Guard.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2018
Chelsea Sinclair, who works at a store near the crash site, told the Island Packet newspaper that the plane went down nose-first and shook the building.
Mark Jones, speaking to the Savannah Morning News, said he was in his car when the plane hit the road in front of him.
“It didn’t look like it nose-dived, but it almost looked like it stalled and just went almost flat right there in the middle of the highway,” Jones said.
“I’m still shook up and shaking. My stomach is in knots because I know they’re people just like me. I wasn’t that far from it, and I could have just kept going and it would have been me and we wouldn’t be talking right now,” Jones said.
Scott Cohen tweeted what he said was footage of the crash from his business’s surveillance cameras. In it, the plane appears to lose altitude quickly and twirl into the ground.
— Scott Cohen (@scottoftroy) May 2, 2018
The Fallen Puerto Rican Airmen are:
- Maj. José R. Román Rosado, who had 18 years of service. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
- Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra, a navigator with 23 years of service, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter
- 1st Lt. David Albandoz, a co-pilot with 16 years of service, survived by his wife and daughter
- Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini, a mechanic with 21 years of service, survived by two daughters and a son
- Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred, with 16 years of service and survived by his wife and two sons
- Master Sgt. Mario Braña, a flight engineer with 17 years of service, survived by his mother and daughter
- Master Sgt. Víctor Colón, who had 22 years of service and is survived by his wife and two daughters
- Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, a loadmaster with 31 years of service, survived by his wife, two stepdaughters and a son
- Senior Airman Roberto Espada, who had three years of service and is survived by his grandmother.
Editor’s Note: Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family and the Puerto Rico National Guard. God Speed Guardsmen. Rest easy and thank you for your service.