Investigators believe nine members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard were killed Wednesday when the cargo plane they were traveling in nosedived onto a highway just outside of Savannah.
The crew was flying the C-130 into retirement when it plunged to the ground, The Associated Press reported. The plane, which is more than 60 years old, was making its final trip and was en route to Arizona at the time of the crash. No one on the ground was injured.
A spokeswoman for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Gena Bilbo, said that “miraculously” the plane didn’t hit any cars or homes. Bilbo told The Associated Press, “To our knowledge there are no survivors.”
The huge plane’s fuselage appeared to have struck the median, and pieces of its wings were scattered across lanes in both directions. The only part of the plane left intact was a tail section, investigators said.
The crash happened around 11:30 a.m. at the intersection of Ga. 21 and Crossgate Road. Late Wednesday, a portion of the Ga. 21 remained closed.
Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons, with the National Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing, said via a Facebook Live interview that the plane had taken off from the Savannah airport.
A Puerto Rico National Guard official told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the plane was bound for Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
“It’s a difficult moment for the Puerto Rican National Guard and, in particular, the families of those involved,” Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all the family members of those involved. And we are going to do our best to make sure that we get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
The National Guard tweeted that the plane is a WC-130 Hercules and was on a training mission. The plane is from the Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Wing stationed in Puerto Rico.
Isabelo Rivera, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, 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.
Video taken Wednesday showed the plane nosediving into the ground, followed by a heavy plume of smoke. Witness Mark Jones Jr., who was driving on Ga. 21 when he saw the crash, grabbed his cellphone and shot video of the aftermath.
“(It) literally just dropped out of the sky and blew up on the street,” Jones told Channel 2 Action News.
Another witness, Lauren Sapp, told Channel 2 that she was at her construction company office when she heard the plane fall out of the sky.
“It was quite scary,” Sapp told the news station. “We were sitting here in our office and there was a loud bang and explosion. Everybody jumped up in the office and went running out back.”
This is the second time in less than a year that version of the plane has been involved in a fatal crash. Fifteen Marines and a sailor died when an air tanker version of the plane plunged into farmland in rural Mississippi nearly 10 months ago, the New York Times reported.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares released a statement a little before 3 p.m. offering his condolences to the families of those killed.
“While we are waiting for more information regarding this unfortunate accident, my thought and those of (wife) Beatriz are with the families of the crew,” the governor said. “They will receive our support and that of the National Guard of Puerto Rico in this process.”
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, who represents Georgia's coastal 1st District in the U.S. House, released a statement.
"It is heartbreaking to hear this tragic and horrific news in the First District today involving brave service members. ... As we learn more, we are ready to help in any way possible."
The U.S. Air Force tweeted condolences.
President Donald Trump also released a statement about the crash.
MORE: Photos from Savannah air passengers