Officials have identified nine Puerto Rico Air National Guard airmen killed when their plane crashed shortly after taking off in Savanna, Georgia. The plane, a C-130-type cargo plane from Puerto Rico’s 156th Airlift Wing, had been in Savannah for several days for routine maintenance. It took off about 11:30 a.m on Wednesday morning heading to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Arizona, where it was set to be decommissioned since it was one of the oldest such aircraft still flying—at more than 60 years old.
The plane made it about a mile from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport before it nose-dived toward a state highway intersection and exploded into a ball of fire and black smoke. Witnesses say the aircraft, with four turboprop engines on its overhead wing, banked left as it rapidly descended. The plane then plummeted behind trees. Seconds later, a fireball and thick black smoke erupted from the tree line. The wreck left a debris field of 360,000 square feet — about the area of six football fields. Chatham County officials said that Georgia Highway 21 will remain closed indefinitely as investigators examine the crash site and debris field.
Those killed in the crash have been identified as the pilot, Maj. Jose R. Roman Rosado from Manati, who left behind a wife and two sons; co-pilot, 1st Lt. David Albandoz from Madison, Alabama who left behind a wife and daughter; navigator, Maj. Carlos Perez Serra from Canovanas, who left behind a wife, two sons and a daughter; Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini from Canovanas who left behing two daughters and son; Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred from Carolina who left behind a wife and two sons; Master Sgt. Mario Brana from Bayamon who left behind a daughter; Master Sgt. Eric Circuns from Rio Grande who left behind a wife, two stepdaughters and son; Master Sgt. Victor Colon of Santa Isabel, who left behind a wife and two daughters and Senior Airman Roberto Espada, from Salinas, who is survived by his grandmother.
An investigation into the cause of the crash is being carried out by the National Guard Bureau and the Air Force including whether it could be related to maintenance performed on the plane shortly before it took off or the craft’s age. A team from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina is conducting the investigation, while a team from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware was sent to recover the airmen’s remains.
The destroyed C-130 and all nine crew members killed had helped with the hurricane recovery effort. The plane had been used to rescue Americans stranded in the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean late last year. Days later, Hurricane Maria slammed into the 156th Airlift Wing’s home base in Puerto Rico, and the plane subsequently transported supplies from the U.S. mainland to the ruined island. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló declared nine days of mourning for the crew, during which flags in the territory will fly at half-staff, according to a statement from his office.