A C-130 Hercules cargo plane from Puerto Rico Air National Guard crashed Wednesday morning in Savannah.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The above video contains profane language.
SAVANNAH, Ga. — A C-130 plane from Puerto Rico was on its retirement flight when it suddenly dropped from the sky and crashed in Port Wentworth on Wednesday.
While Puerto Rican officials say nine were aboard the plane when it struck the intersection of Ga. 21 and Crossgate Road, as of late Wednesday Chatham County Coronor Bill Wessinger said officials have not discovered more than two bodies in the wreckage of the crash that occurred about 11:28 a.m.
"We have not found more than two bodies. We're going back to look," Wessinger said.
The investigation into the crash, as well as its impact on the roadways, is expected to last for weeks.
Isabelo Rivera, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, told The Associated Press the plane was more than 60 years old and was making its final flight into retirement in Arizona.
Rivera said the C-130 plane had been used in the past to rescue U.S. citizens stranded in the British Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma and ferry supplies to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria last year.
The plane's fuselage appeared to have struck the median, and pieces of its wings, which spanned 132 feet, were scattered across lanes in both directions.
According to a press release from Jeffrey Bezore, Wing Executive Officer of the 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah, the crash happened during a training mission. The plane belonged to the 156th Air Wing.
Surveillance footage that caught the crash as it happened shows the plan suddenly nosediving into the ground. The crash left jet fuel across the highway that caused small fires on the sides of the road. No cars or trains were involved in the wreck. No other injuries from the crash have been reported.
Effingham County Sheriff spokeswomen Gena Bilbo says the intersection of Ga. 21 and Crossgate Road could be closed for weeks as agencies document the wreck site.
“It’s a huge impact to Hwy. 21 and Dean Forest Road,“ she said.
An emergency road closure with detour is in place on Ga. 21 between Crossgate Road and Piedmont Avenue due to the crash. According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the closure will stay in place until further notice.
Motorists traveling north on SR 21 will be detoured onto Ga. 307 North then turn west Jimmy Deloach Connector to the Sonny Dixon Interchange back to Ga. 21 where detour ends.
Motorists traveling south on Ga. 21 will be detoured to Sonny Dixon Interchange to Jimmy Deloach Connector then travel west to Ga. 307 South back to Ga. 21 where the detour ends.
Sr. Master Sgt. Roger Parsons with the 165th Airlift Wing says the crew from Puerto Rico was conducting a routine mission when the crash occurred.
The plane originated from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to our brothers and sisters at the Puerto Rico Air National Guard,” Parsons said. “This is never a fun time. We’re here to support them.”
An interim safety board is securing the scene and a mortuary team is en route from Charleston to work with the casualties, he said.
Parsons would not confirm the number of people on board the plane, the number of casualties or the extent of injuries.
The Georgia Ports Authority reports Norfolk Southern has been cleared to move cargo to Savannah.
The rail line can now move cargo to their off port rail yard or to the port, a GPA spokesman said.
CSX has also been cleared for cargo to the Savannah rail yard on their southern main line, but the north main line has not been cleared. CSX has currently halted train traffic on that line.
Witnesses nearby said they first heard a “big thump” and then saw smoke clouds.
“At first we thought a truck hit something so we ran out to look and we saw the plane.”
Dixon and his coworker Roger Best watched the plane as it descended from the sky.
“We saw the plane dip and it was just above the tree line and then it crashed,” Best said. The woods was on fire. It was crazy.”
Mark Jones was near the intersection of Ga. 21 and Gulfstream Road when he noticed the plane low in the air.
“I could see (the plane) above the tree line and it looked kind of low like it was curving in toward the street, but I see them all the time, so I didn’t think anything of it,” Jones said.
“I looked down and then looked back up and 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.”
Jones said the explosion happened immediately upon impact.
“... Most people stopped and got out of their cars,” he said.
“I’m still shook up and shaking. My stomach is in knots because I know they’re people just like me.”
Greg Parker, with Parker's stores, said employees at the store on Ga. 21 at Crossgate all heard the crash.
"They were terrified," Parker said.
The store also lost power due to the crash.
Schools in the area of the crash, Rice Creek and Port Wentworth, lost phone and internet service due to the crash. Operations are expected to be back to normal at the schools on Thursday.
Port Wentworth Police Chief Matt Libby stressed residents to practice patience as the investigation takes place.
“We want to stress to local population that this is going to drastically affect your life for an extended period of time,” he said.
As of late Wednesday, only the U.S. Military is conducting the crash investigation, according to Chatham County officials.
“There is a 600’ x 600’ debris field that is being investigated by the military, said county spokeswoman Catherine Neal. “This is only a military investigation and National Transportation Safety Board is not involved in the investigation. Ga. 21 will remain closed indefinitely.”
Several steps will need to be taken before the road can be opened, Neal said.
After the military completes its investigation, officials will clean up the aircraft and debris field. Any hazardous materials will be mitigated and the road will then be evaluated and repaired by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The railroad has not been reopened as of press time on Wednesday.
The C-130 Hercules is the prime transport of the Air Force and Air National Guard for airdropping troops and equipment.
It can accommodate oversized cargo, from utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles to standard palletized cargo and military personnel. The Air Force issued the C-130’s original design specification in 1951, but it remains in production, with the latest model dating to 1999.
A typical crew consists of three to five people, depending on the model. The newest ones require a crew of three: two pilots and a loadmaster.
“The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes on inventory,” Rivera said. Puerto Rico’s National Guard has five other similar planes, two of which are not in use because they require maintenance, he said.
The plane that crashed was part of a Puerto Rican unit that had dealt a lot with Georgia airmen since Hurricane Maria ripped apart the island’s infrastructure last fall.
Savannah had become a hub for relief efforts last fall, and last month airmen from Georgia deployed to the island to restore communications equipment at the storm-battered 156th Airlift Wing at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Puerto Rico.
Before the aircraft involved in Wednesday’s crash was transferred to Puerto Rico, it was part of the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, said Maj. Marnee Losurdo, public affairs chief for the Mississippi unit.
The 403rd Wing is the only Department of Defense unit tasked to organize, equip, train and perform all hurricane weather reconnaissance in support of the Department of Commerce.
Losurdo said when the unit was chosen to test a newer version of the aircraft, the C-130J, the remaining C-130H aircraft were transferred to different wings. In September 2005, the unit completed the conversion to the J-model, according to the Air Force.
The plane that crashed Wednesday has been operating out of Puerto Rico since it left the Mississippi installation in either 2005 or 2006, Losurdo said.
From the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.