Details are still coming in, but a WC-130 Hercules hurricane hunter from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Wing has crashed in Savannah, Georgia shortly after 11:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time. Initial pictures and video show the tail section largely intact, but a massive fire producing a tower of thick, black smoke.
According to the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency, or CEMA, the plane crashed and burned right in the middle of a built-up area, coming to rest at the intersection of Savannah's Crossgate Road and Georgia State Route 21, forcing authorities to close off portions of the roads. First responders were on the scene, but state and Air National Guard officials did not initially have any word on casualties among either the crew or anyone on the ground.
The crash site is less than five miles from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is home to the Georgia Air National Guard's 165th Airlift Wing. Initial reports that the aircraft was a C-130H airlifter belonging to that unit appear to have been in error, with officials confirming to Defense News that the Hercules belonged to the 156th Airlift Wing.
There have already been more than a half dozen U.S. military aviation accidents in 2018, both within the United States and abroad, resulting in more than a dozen fatalities. Most recently, on April 24, 2018, a U.S. Air Force F-16C Viper fighter jet from the 56th Fighter Wing crashed near Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport in Arizona. Earlier in April, an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter had ended up on its belly at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.
Thankfully the pilots were able to walk away in both of those cases. Still, this latest incident only adds to the evidence that the U.S. military as a whole is increasingly facing a readiness crisis across its aviation elements.
Update: 1:50pm EST—
According to a press release the Georgia Air National Guard, which is assisting in the response to the crash, sent to
various outlets, there were five individuals aboard the WC-130H. Their status remains unclear, but the statement did say that “the names will be released upon notification of next-of-kin.”
A separate Tweet from the National Guard Bureau also confirmed that aircraft had a crew of five, but did not offer any additional details about their fate.
Local reports say that the Chatham County Deputy Coroner said two people had died in the crash, but it is not clear whether or not those were individuals on board the aircraft or on the ground.
Update: 2:00pm EST—
There are additional images of the crash site that show there is indeed almost nothing left of the aircraft besides the tail section.
The pictures also help confirm that this aircraft is serial 65-0968, a WC-130H hurricane hunter. It originally started life as an HC-130H rescue aircraft.
Update: 2:20pm EST—
It is interesting to note that during his visit to Puerto Rico in October 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, U.S. President Donald Trump sat under this exact same WC-130H during a meeting about the disaster response efforts. You can see the last four digits of the serial, 0968, clearly on the aircraft's nose in the picture below.
Update: 2:50pm EST—
We cannot confirm this at this time but two reliable sources have told The War Zone that the crew of this WC-130H, serial number 65-0968, was actually in the process of ferrying the aircraft to the Bone Yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. It is important to note that these details could still change as more information becomes available.
They also said that the five individuals on board had died, which officials have not yet confirmed. However, U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeffrey Bezore, a 165th Airlift Wing spokesperson, did, unfortunately, tell Stars and Stripes that the crews were presumed to be dead.
Update: 5:00pm EST—
Authorities have now confirmed that a least five people have died as a result of the crash, which would likely be the plane's entire crew. It remains unclear whether or not anyone on the ground suffered any injuries as a result of the mishap.
A new video has also emerged, showing the aircraft slowly banking to left before spinning out of control and plummeting into the ground.
Update: 5/3/2018 —
Authorities have now confirmed that a total of nine people on board WC-130H serial number 65-0698 died in the crash, as well as the detail that the plane was heading for retirement at the Bone Yard. In addition, the Puerto Rico Air National Guard has said that it has two more WC-130Hs that are non-flyable due to a maintenance backlog.
We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com