F-16 crashes in Charleston, SC **pics**
Pics up top with story at bottom.
Two pilots on a training mission ejected from an Air Force F-16D seconds before the jet crashed and burned Monday along the Ashley River.
The airmen, Maj. Steve Granger and Lt. Col. Maurice Salcedo, parachuted into the marsh near The Citadel about 5 p.m. A half an hour later, their green jumpsuits muddy but dry, the airmen chatted briefly with the Charleston police and fire rescuers who brought them ashore at the Charleston Rifle Club pier at the end of Heriot Street.
When asked what went through his mind after he shot out of the cockpit, "Wow" was all one pilot could muster. Both said they were fine. An ambulance then took them to Trident Medical Center.
The Air Force is investigating the crash of the more than $18 million jet, which was based at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Witnesses said the jet was in the air for about 10 seconds after the pilots ejected. Then it plummeted into the marsh and burst into flames.
Reggie McCoy, 36, was manning a construction vehicle at Boasso America Corp. on Braswell Street when he heard two "pops" as the men ejected. He saw two white parachutes. His co-worker, Adrien Roy, said the jet crashed just a couple of hundred feet from the chemical plant.
"The next thing I know, I heard an explosion, and then I saw a bunch of smoke and fire in the water," he said.
Mark Koblos, who was in a boat about 500 yards from the explosion, said the plane leveled off before the pilots ejected. Koblos, who said flames from the wreckage were about 30 feet high, checked on the pilots and gave them global positioning satellite coordinates when they asked for them. He waited with the pilots until emergency officials picked them up.
Marc Miramontes and his 9-year-old daughter, Elize, said a second jet circled the crash site seven times. They watched the scene from the parking lot of Omni Health and Fitness in West Ashley.
"They were flying pretty low," Miramontes said.
Jewana Dais said she and other Gordon Street residents ran to the edge of the Ashley River after the crash and saw the two pilots standing in the marsh on the north side of the river.
"We yelled to them to see if they were OK," Dais said. "They waved back at us and started packing up their 'chutes.' "
By about 6 p.m., Dais and other onlookers watched as Charleston police officers and a trio of Citadel cadets who had witnessed the crash walked through the marsh marking pieces of the wreckage. The canopy, still in one piece, was stuck in pluff mud about 30 yards from a home on the edge of the marsh.
Air Force officials urged people to stay away from the wreckage. The jet was carrying no munitions, said Lt. Suzanne Ovel, a spokeswoman at Shaw Air Force Base. She did not know whether the jet was carrying anything else.
Charleston Air Force Base accident investigators searched the river and marsh for wreckage throughout the night.
Local officials, including the Coast Guard, scrambled to find and access the crash site. Several witnesses said pieces of the fighter jet flew off as it went down. Wreckage was found in several areas, said Capt. Gina Jackson, chief of public affairs at Charleston Air Force Base.
Salcedo was observing Granger, who flies with the 77th "Gamblers" Fighter Squadron, on a training mission designed to increase pilots' proficiency, Shaw officials said.
A board of officers will investigate the accident.
Col. Michael Beale, vice commander of the 20th Fighter Wing, said the pilots were just getting started with the mission when there was "some sort of malfunction."
The pilot tried to land at Charleston Air Force Base, and "when he realized he couldn't make Charleston Air Force Base, he put it down in an unpopulated area," Beale said.
Beale said the pilot has flown for more than 12 years, though he was unsure how long the pilot has flown F-16s.
Experts from Shaw immediately headed to Charleston to secure and inspect the equipment. Beale said he couldn't speculate about the cause.
The crash comes one month after a non-fatal F-16 crash at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and barely a week before ShawFest 2005, an air show featuring the Thunderbirds, an Air Force demonstration team that performs aerobatic maneuvers in F-16s.
On the same day as the Nellis crash, Shaw took delivery of the last F-16 built for the Air Force. Since 1978 the Air Force has purchased 2,231 of the planes. U.S. allies will continue to purchase the F-16.
The "Fighting Falcon" is used for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Shaw has 80 of the planes, which cost about $26.9 million in their latest incarnation.
Shaw's three fighter squadrons have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They also guard the eastern seaboard as part of Operation Noble Eagle. Shaw pilots patrolled the skies over President Bush on Christmas Day and during the Republican National Convention.
The Gamblers lost a pilot in the last major crash involving a Shaw jet. In that accident, Capt. Mitchell August Bulmann, 27, of Traverse City, Mich., died July 6, 2001, in the Atlantic Ocean after ejecting from the plane.
He had been engaged in an air-to-air combat training exercise about 40 miles off the coast of Charleston. An Air Force investigation found that he lost control of the plane while suffering from gravity-induced loss of consciousness, which typically lasts 24 seconds.
By the time he regained consciousness and was able to eject, his plane was moving too quickly and at an unsafe angle for him to eject properly. He suffered fatal injuries while ejecting.