Nine Puerto Ricans killed in final flight of 60-year-old military plane

A crew of nine Puerto Ricans were flying an Air National Guard C-130 into retirement in Arizona when it crashed on to a road in Georgia, and authorities said there are no survivors.

The plane crashed moments after taking off from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, narrowly missing people on the ground and sending an orange and black fireball into the sky.

“It miraculously did not hit any cars, any homes,” Effingham County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Gena Bilbo said. “This is a very busy roadway.”

Eight hours after the crash, she added: “To our knowledge there are no survivors.”

The huge plane’s fuselage appeared to have struck the median, and pieces of its wings, which spanned 132ft, were scattered across lanes in both directions.

The debris field stretched 600ft in diameter, Ms Bilbo said. The only part still intact was the tail section, said Chris Hanks, a spokesman for the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association.

A firetruck sprays foam over the remains of the Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News/AP)

The plane was more than 60 years old, said Isabelo Rivera, Adjutant General of Puerto Rico’s National Guard.

Belonging to the 156th Air Wing, it was used to rescue US citizens stranded in the British Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma and ferry supplies to the US territory of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria last year.

“The planes that we have in Puerto Rico – it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes on inventory” of all National Guard planes nationwide, Mr Rivera said. Puerto Rico’s National Guard has five other similar planes, two of which need maintenance and are not being used, he said.

It is too early to say what might have caused the accident, he said. The plane last received maintenance at the base in Savannah in April.

All nine crew members had helped with hurricane recovery efforts as part of the 198th Fighter Squadron, knicknamed the Bucaneros, which flies out of Base Muniz in the northern coastal city of Carolina, Mr Rivera said.

“This pains us,” Mr Rivera said of the deaths. They are not releasing names until all the families have been contacted, but “most of them already know and have come to the base”.

Motorist Mark Jones told the Savannah Morning News that he saw the plane hit the road right in front of him, about a mile from the airport.

“It didn’t look like it nosedived, but it almost looked like it stalled and just went almost flat right there in the middle of the highway,” Mr Jones said, describing how people stopped and got out of their cars following the explosion.

“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,” Mr Jones said.

The US territory’s governor Ricardo Rossello expressed his sadness, tweeting that “our prayers are with the families of the Puerto Rican crew”.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the crash, and sent “thoughts and prayers for the victims, their families and the great men and women of the National Guard”.

- Press Association

Related Articles

Review urged as planes come within metres of each other

Update: Irish woman killed at Spanish airport fell from footbridge

Department of Transport refuses to approve post to look after air-passenger rights

Pilots struggled to control Lion Air jet before it crashed into sea

More in this Section

Rescue workers find ‘no trace’ of missing plane carrying footballer

No-deal Brexit can only be stopped by MPs backing another solution, says Barnier

Polish mayor's widow blames killing on government-controlled television

Brexit woes and trade rows among risks to global economy, says Japanese PM


As Sarah Michelle Gellar tries Tabata for the first time, what is this 4-minute workout?

Liechtenstein turns 300 – 7 reasons to make this alpine micro-state your next destination

Specs in focus: A nostalgic look back at how glasses became a centrepiece of style

Gemma Atkinson: ‘Strong isn’t a size, sexy isn’t a size – it’s all about health’

More From The Irish Examiner