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9 airmen killed in C-130 crash identified, a day after failed flight to ‘The Boneyard’

'A C-130 literally just dropped out of the sky'

An Air National Guard C-130 crashed near a Savannah, Ga., airport on May 2, 2018. All nine airmen aboard the plane died.

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 3, 2018

WASHINGTON — An old cargo plane used by the Puerto Rico Air National Guard was on its way to an aircraft graveyard in Arizona when it crashed Wednesday near Savannah, Ga., killing all nine Guard members on board.

On Thursday, the nine Guardsmen were identified. All Puerto Ricans, the men ranged in rank from a senior airman with three years of service to a major who had served 23 years, according to a Puerto Rico Guard statement.

The guard members killed in the crash near Savannah-Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport were:

  • Maj. José R. Román Rosado, a pilot, from Manati, Puerto Rico, who had served 18 years in the military. He is survived by his pregnant wife and two sons.
  • Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra, a navigator, from Canóvanas, Puerto Rico, who served 23 years in the military. He is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.
  • 1st Lt. David Albandoz, a pilot from Puerto Rico who recently resided in Madison, Alabama, and had served 16 years in the military. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
  • Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini, a mechanic, from Canóvanas, Puerto Rico, who had served 21 years in the military. He is survived by his two daughters and a son.
  • Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred., from Carolina, Puerto Rico, who had served 16 years in the military. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
  • Master Sgt. Mario Braña, a flight engineer, from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, who had served 17 years in the military. He is survived by his mother and daughter.
  • Master Sgt. Víctor Colón, of Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, had served 22 years in the military. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
  • Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, a loadmaster, from Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, had served 31 years in the military. He is survived by his wife, two stepdaughters, and a son.
  • Senior Airman Roberto Espada, of Salinas, Puerto Rico. He had served three years in the military, and is survived by his grandmother.

The airmen were killed when their C-130 Hercules crashed shortly after taking off on a flight to Davis–Monthan Air Force Base’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, said Army Maj. Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the Puerto Rico National Guard. Known as “The Boneyard,” the facility stores decommissioned aircraft, which are sometimes later returned to service.

Before leaving on the doomed flight, the crew had spent several days in Savannah for standard preventative aircraft maintenance, Dahlen said. The Savannah airport, in an industrial area just north of the coastal city, is home to the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing, which flies and maintains C-130s.

It is not clear what caused the plane to go down just moments after takeoff. Video of the crash captured by a nearby security camera and shared on social media shows the plane flying low, turning its wings, before suddenly diving nose-first toward the ground behind a line of trees. A moment later a fireball can be seen rising into the sky followed by a cloud of thick, black smoke.

The C-130’s pilot radioed a distress call and indicated he planned to return the plane to the airport just before the crash, an emergency response official said on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the information publicly.

The Air Force has launched an investigation into the crash that left a debris field over some 600 feet in Port Wentworth, a town just north of Savannah, mere miles from the airport, said Air Force Col. Pete Boone, the vice wing commander of the 165th Airlift Wing.

He expressed condolences to family members who lost loved ones in the crash.

“We are a close-knit family and when a tragedy like this occurs every member of the United States Armed Forces feels it,” Boone said.

The exact age of the plane was unclear, but it was at least 40 years old, officials agreed. The plane was a WC-130H model known as a “Hurricane Hunter,” which was once outfitted to conduct weather reconnaissance missions, including flying directly into hurricanes to collect data. The plane more recently had been used primarily to haul people and cargo, officials said.

Boone told reporters that the aircraft had been manufactured in the 1970s, however the Puerto Rico National Guard’s top officer, Army Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera said late Wednesday that the plane was more than 60 years old. He said it was one of six similar aircraft in the Puerto Rican Guard’s inventory.

"The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it's not news today that they are the oldest planes on inventory” in the military,” Rivera said during a news conference, adding it was difficult to get parts shipped to Puerto Rico.

The unit’s C-130s were used heavily during last year’s hurricane season conducting humanitarian missions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after two hurricanes devastated the American territories in the Caribbean.

The crashed C-130 was among the planes that logged thousands of miles delivering supplies, food and water to the islands after hurricanes Irma and Maria, Dahlen said. All nine airmen who perished in the crash had participated in some of those missions, he said.

They were not strangers to Savannah, where the Georgia National Guard base attached to the airport was one of several hubs for delivering supplies to locations impacted by the storms. Dahlen said the crews often stopped in the city, as they shuttled gear, provisions and people back and forth.

Wednesday’s crash was the latest in a long string of aircraft mishaps. In the last month, at least seven U.S. military aircraft have crashed, leaving 16 servicemembers dead. It was the second Air Force fatality since the beginning of April.

Despite the string of fatal aircraft mishaps that have spanned all four branches of the U.S. military, Defense Department officials have insisted military aviation is not facing an emergency.

“This is not a crisis,” Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White said Thursday. “But it is a crisis for each of these families.”

White told reporters at the Pentagon that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is confident the leadership in each of the military services is committed to proper investigations of aviation crashes and implementing changes that those probes determine necessary.

Not all of the recent crashes have obvious links, she said. Nonetheless, she implored lawmakers to ensure full funding of the Pentagon in the future. Several lawmakers have placed the blame for aviation and other fatal mishaps on funding shortfalls in recent years due to sequestration and abbreviated, temporary defense budgets known as continuing resolutions. Pentagon officials have said they were uncertain the issues were directly linked.

“Each incident is unique, and it’s very important we think about it in that regard.” White said. “Does it concern us? Listen, we lost a lot of time on [continuing resolutions] … you can’t buy that training time, that maintenance time back. You can’t do it.”

Air Force officials have pledged to determine the cause of incidents, but they also have noted the service in 2017 recorded near-historic low rates of the most serious aviation mishaps, which cause more than $2 million in damage or fatality or permanently injure personnel.

Last month, Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, ordered the service to review Class C mishaps in an effort to drive down a recent uptick in their occurrences. Class C mishaps are defined as resulting in damages costing $50,000 or more but less than $500,000 in repairs or a nonfatal injury that results in more than one day away from work.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

Emergency personnel work at the scene of an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane that crashed near Savannah, Ga., Wednesday, May 2, 2018.
CHRIS HANKS/SAVANNAH PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION VIA AP

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