6 US airmen among 11 dead in C-130 crash in Afghanistan
This story has been updated. The Defense Department released the identification of the crash victims Saturday.
WASHINGTON — Six U.S. airmen and five contractors were killed when a C-130 crashed at Jalalabad Air Field in Afghanistan early Friday.
Two Afghans were also killed, NBC News reported, citing a spokesman for the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Four of the airmen were deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and two were deployed from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., officials said. Ryan Hammond, of Marshall County, W.Va., was among those who died, according to local news reports.
The crash, which occurred just after midnight Friday Afghanistan time, involved a C-130J assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which is part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.
The airfield at Jalalabad, located about 100 miles east of Kabul, is used only for military and United Nations flights.
In a post online, the Taliban claimed they had shot down the aircraft, killing 15 “invaders” and several Afghan “hirelings.”
However, U.S. Air Force Maj. Tony Wickman, a spokesman for the 455th said, “enemy fire is not suspected as a factor in the crash. There is, however, an ongoing investigation by officials to determine the cause.” He said he could not provide information about casualties on the ground, as recovery operations were still underway.
Wickman said the plane crashed immediately on takeoff. “The aircraft crash site is contained wholly within the confines of the airfield,” he said.
A senior official at the Pentagon said the aircraft hit a ground object as it was ascending, lost control and crashed into a guard tower at the end of the air field. Afghan civilians in the guard tower were killed in the ensuing fire, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because was not authorized to speak about the crash while the investigation was underway.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was “saddened” to learn of the crash.
“My thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time,” he said in a statement. “I also want to express my condolences to the families of the Afghans killed in this tragedy. We remain committed with our coalition partners to helping the people of Afghanistan build a secure and peaceful country.”
President Barack Obama also extended condolences to the families. “As we mark this terrible loss of life, we are reminded of the sacrifice brave Americans and our Afghan partners make each and every day in the name of freedom and security,” he said in a statement.
Commanders of the airmen joined in the expressions of sorrow.
“The sadness and shock of this accident will have a profound effect on their wingmen here in Afghanistan, as well as the home station communities,” said Brig. Gen. Dave Julazadeh, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.
The four crewmembers from Dyess Air Force Base — the two pilots and two loadmasters — were assigned to the 317th Airlift Group, said Senior Airman Kia Atkins, a spokeswoman for the 7th Bomb Wing.
“This is a deeply emotional time for everyone in the 317th Airlift Group,” Col. Stephen Hodge, 317th Air Group commander said in a statement. “The friendship and camaraderie in the Herk community, especially among our Dyess and Abilene friends, is unlike any other. These airmen and their loved ones are our family, and we will continue to take care of them.”
The two airmen from Hascom were members of the 66th Security Forces Squadron.
“This is a devastating day for our Air Force and for Hanscom Air Force Base,” Col. Michael A. Vogel, base commander, said in a statement.
All aboard the C-130J Super Hercules were assigned to Operation Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission to provide training and security assistance in Afghanistan.
About 9,500 U.S. servicemembers remain in Afghanistan after the administration’s decision earlier this year to keep a larger U.S. force size on the ground to help the Afghan government solidify security gains after the NATO-led coalition ended its combat mission at the end of last year.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport plane, which has been in service since the mid-1950s, has been used extensively throughout the 14-year war to move equipment and troops across the mountainous country, which has few usable roads. The C-130J model is the latest version and is the only one still in production. It has been extensively upgraded with new turboprop engines that give it much better performance and allow for safer hot-and-high take-offs and landings on remote dirt airstrips.
The Afghan air force also operates four of the earlier H models.
Three other U.S. C-130s have been lost in Afghanistan - three of them in 2002 during the U.S.-led campaign that resulted in the ouster of the Taliban regime, and one in 2013.
Stars and Stripes reporters Josh Smith and Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.