Nine dead as National Guard plane crashes near Savannah

A Puerto Rican National Guard transport plane crashed during a training mission Wednesday morning near Savannah, killing at least nine on board, delaying flights at the nearby airport and snarling traffic on Ga. 21.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’s office called it an accident, though the military said it was still investigating what caused the WC-130 Hercules to crash. Part of the 156th Airlift Wing in Puerto Rico, the plane was bound for the Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona before it went down at about 11:30 a.m.

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The Air Force describes WC-130s as high-wing, medium-range aircraft used in weather reconnaissance missions. 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

President Donald Trump said on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that he had been briefed about the crash near Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.


Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen said all of those aboard were Puerto Ricans. Their names were not immediately available Wednesday.

“It’s a difficult moment for the Puerto Rican National Guard and, in particular, the families of those involved,” he 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.”

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Photos taken by the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association at the intersection of Ga. 21 and Crossgate Road show debris strewn across the road. In one of the pictures, the plane’s tail is standing upright amid flames, and an ambulance is parked beside it. People passing through the airport Wednesday posted photos on social media showing a huge plume of dark smoke rising in the distance.

Wednesday’s crash also knocked out power and halted train traffic in the area. Drivers traveling on Ga. 21 were told to detour onto SR 307. That part of Ga. 21 is busy, with about 28,500 vehicles traveling there daily, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. About half are commercial truckers delivering to the nearby Port of Savannah.

“Locally, there is a huge impact,” Gena Bilbo, a spokeswoman for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters. “The power has been cut to the area and we are trying desperately to bring the power back up.”

Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation

Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation

Nevares, the Puerto Rican governor, released a statement about the crash Wednesday afternoon.

“While we are waiting for more information regarding this unfortunate accident, my thoughts and those of (my 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 House, also extended his condolences.

“It is heartbreaking to hear this tragic and horrific news in the First District today involving brave service members,” he said. “As we learn more, we are ready to help in any way possible.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a fellow Republican, called news of the plane crash devastating.

“There are no words for the victims’ families and our military community as they mourn the lives of their loved ones,” he said. “Thank you to all of the first responders who were on the scene immediately. We can never forget the sacrifices our women and men in uniform make to provide for our national security.”

—The Associated Press and AJC staff writers Ben Brasch, Zachary Hansen and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.