Members of the Anderson City Technical Rescue Team were just finishing up with a long day of demonstrations at The Celebrate Freedom Festival Air Show at Owens Field in Columbia when the trouble began. "We were just breaking to eat some lunch when the vintage aircraft parade flew overhead. The F4U Corsair started to trail smoke and then he disappeared from our view", says Squad Leader Brian Black. "We then heard reports from the other planes and tower that he had gone down about 1 mile southwest of the runway".
The plane that had gone down was a WWII era F4U Corsair flown by pilot Joseph O. Tobul, 68, of Santee, SC. He appeared to have lost power after which he steered his plane into a heavily overgrown swamp to avoid the nearby neighborhood. His decision cost him his life but likely saved many others.
Anderson City Rescue was geared and ready to go when the control tower requested their immediate assistance. "They knew we demonstrated our skills all day and figured we could help. As we lifted off in the helo, we could see a heavy column of black smoke".
On arrival, the Anderson County Sheriffs Office helicopter hovered 200 feet off the deck. This was as close as they could get due to the windy conditions. Four members of the Anderson Rescue Team rappelled into the swamp to access the condition of the pilot.
The members were Squad Leader Brian Black, Rescue Technician Craig Saxon, Rescue Technician Jamie Cantrell and Rescue Technician/Paramedic Carla King.
"The debris field from the crash site covered over 1/4 of a mile in length. When he went in, he went in hard". "The plane and surrounding area was fully involved with fire. There was fuel everywhere", says Mr. Black. He went on to say, "We searched the area for Mr. Tobul, but we found no trace. It was probable that he was still in the main wreckage". Several of the team members had talked to Mr. Tobul three hours previous about his airplane. The plane had logged over 200 flights in Korea and was the type of aircraft flown in the TV show "Blacksheep Squadron".
As they looked on it was quickly realized just how close the plane had come to the neighborhood. The plane came down only about 75 feet from the homes, none of which were damaged. No one else was injured in the incident.
Mr. Black went on to say that the Columbia Fire Department was great to work with on the scene. "They had jurisdiction... we just happened to be in the right place at the right time to offer our assistance". "Those guys were really professional... a really good bunch of fellows".
The FAA is investigating and an autopsy is planned for Monday morning.