SAVANNAH, Ga. — Officials in Puerto Rico confirmed Wednesday afternoon there were nine people on board a C-130 Hercules military cargo plane that crashed on Georgia Highway 21 in Garden City, Ga., Wednesday morning, according to The Associated Press.

There were reportedly no apparent survivors.

The 165th Airlift Wing reported that the plane is from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

The cargo plane was making its final flight into retirement, Isabelo Rivera, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, told the AP. The aircraft was over 60 years old and “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.”

It is not yet clear what caused the crash.

Capt. Jeff Bezore of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Air Wing told the AP he couldn’t say how many people in total were on the plane.

The plane was on a training mission, according to a military news release.

Chatham County Coroner’s officials were called to the scene of the crash about 12:45 p.m., according to Deputy Coroner Tiffany Williams.

The names of those killed in the crash were not released pending notification of next of kin, officials said.

A spokesman for the Georgia Air National Guard said in a news conference that airmen on the plane had been killed, but he would not confirm any details until investigators had more information about who was on the plane.

“Any time we lose any of our brothers and sisters in arms it’s devastating,” Master Sgt. Roger Parsons Parsons said. “It’s something we never like to have happen, but we’re still here to do a job and to continue on with the missions we have to do.”

Parsons said the plane was taking off from the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, which the Air National Guard “operates out of.”

An interim safety board will be “securing the scene for as long as it takes to start the process of investigating this to find out what the cause was,” Parsons said.

A team from the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations was in route to Savannah on Wednesday afternoon, Parsons said.

Betty Darby, a spokeswoman for Memorial Health University Medical Center, said that, as of 1 p.m. the hospital’s trauma center had not treated any patients from the plane crash scene. Officials from Coastal Carolina Hospital and St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital also said they had not treated any patients from the crash.

Gregory Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the plane was bound for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

Chatham County EMS confirmed that the plane crashed at the intersection of Highway 21 and Crossgate Road. Roads throughout the area were closed, and traffic was being diverted.

First responders work the scene of a deadly crash of an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane from Puerto Rico near the intersection of state highway Georgia 21 and Crossgate Road in Port Wentworth, Ga., Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Savannah Morning News via AP

Highway 21 will remain closed indefinitely, and power has been cut to the area, officials said.

“This could take weeks. We have to warn people,” said Gena Bilbo, spokesperson for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, said in a news conference.

No cars were hit in the crash, Bilbo said.

“It is an absolute miracle at that time of day and that intersection,” she said.

The debris field is approximately 600 feet by 600 feet, Bilbo said.

“We’re going to stress to the local population, this is going to drastically affect your life for an extended period of time,” Port Wentworth, Ga., Police Chief Matt Libby said in a Wednesday night news conference. “It’s going to affect everything we do. It’s not just going to affect Port Wentworth, it’s going to affect Chatham County and Effingham County.”

The chief asked for the community’s patience and to respect that the first priority is the lost lives.

“Had this gone down a couple hundred feet north or south, it might have hit traffic or any of these big warehouses we have around here or any of these businesses or gas stations,” Libby said.

Before Highway 21 can be reopened several things have to happen: The military will investigate the crash, the site will need to be cleared and cleaned, and the Georgia Department of Transportation will have to evaluate the condition of the roadway and make all necessary repairs.

In the aftermath of the crash, the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport said flight delays were minimal. Airport officials urged passengers to check with their airline prior to their flight. They also advised travelers to avoid Highway 21.

Around 3 p.m., officials said airport operations were back to normal.

Chelsea Sinclair, who works at a nearby Parker’s, said the store shook when the plane crashed.

“It went nose-first down,” she said.

“We were seeing a bunch of black smoke, but now it’s just EMS and fire trucks and police,” she said.

Seth Myers, of Port Wentworth, said he’d just finished a delivery for Deli Mart about three to five minutes before the crash.

As he drove on South Coastal Highway to his next stop, he smelled “burning rubber and fuel.”

“And when I looked in my rear-view mirror,” he said, “I saw a ball of flame and then a big mushroom cloud.”

Mariah Majors, an employee at the Carey Hilliard’s on Highway 21, said she could see smoke in the air but could not see the plane.

“There was a loud boom, and our lights flickered on and off,” Majors said. “I turned around about two to three minutes later and saw tons of smoke.”

Alma Kiser was at home on Falkirk Street in Port Wentworth when she saw the plane “just nosediving.”

“We just saw it was getting close to the trees,” she said, adding she thought, at the time, it was just trying to land; but then she heard a “boom” and saw the smoke.

Bartender and manager Anastasia Ockerman was behind the bar at the Hercules Bar and Grill around lunchtime when she saw a string of emergency response vehicles flash past.

“I didn’t hear anything,” she said, when asked if she’d witnessed the crash, which happened just a couple of miles from the Dean Forest Road bar. “I just saw all the police cars and emergency vehicles and fire trucks. … Then, I looked out the window and saw black smoke.”

Joseph Sheppard, who was at his job at La Bastille nearby on Bourne Avenue, said he didn’t see the crash, only the “heavy, heavy smoke” in the aftermath.

As the smoke dissipated, he said, helicopters buzzed around the crash scene, and fire trucks continued to rush toward the scene.

As of 3:45 p.m., the wreckage still sat smoldering in the roadway.

Some local businesses were still without their telephone and internet services throughout the afternoon. A note on the City Line Gas Food Mart card reader said, “Credit/Debit down due to Plane Crash.”

This is not the first crash involving U.S. military aircraft in recent weeks.

In early April, three military aircraft went down across the country within four days.

On April 3, four Marines were killed in a helicopter near El Centro, Calif., after leaving the Twentynine Palms training base to practice landing on “unimproved landing zones,” according to a U.S. Naval Institute news release.

On April 4, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot was killed when his F-16 jet crashed at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base during “a routine aerial demonstration training flight,” said a news release from the air force base.

Then, on April 6, two U.S. Army soldiers were killed in an Apache helicopter crash during routine training at Fort Campbell, Ky., according to the U.S. Army’s101st Airborne Division.

The next news conference is scheduled for Thursday morning.

 

Scene of the C-130 cargo plane crash near an airport in Savannah, Georgia. From the Savannah Georgia Fire Department via Twitter

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