"They were able to walk away" says SCANG of pilots involved in midair crash

"They were able to walk away" says SCANG of pilots involved in midair crash
Model of jets that crashed in GA (Source: SCANG)
Model of jets that crashed in GA (Source: SCANG)

LOUISVILLE, Ga. (AP/WIS) - Two F-16 fighter pilots who survived a midair collision in Georgia are home with their families, the commander of the South Carolina National Guard said Wednesday.

"The pilots are in good shape," Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston Jr. told reporters at a news conference on the tarmac of the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base.

The South Carolina Air National Guard says the F-16 fighter jet pilots ejected safely after a midair collision over eastern Georgia Tuesday at around 9:15 p.m. during routine night-flying operations over a military operating area in Jefferson County, Ga.

The crash scene is about three miles outside of Louisville, Ga., off Highway 17 in wooded areas. Officials said they were dealing with two crash sites.

Jefferson County Fire Chief Jim Anderson said the area where the planes came down Tuesday night is a very rural section of the county. Anderson said one pilot was found in a pasture and the other at the edge of some woods.

The tail section and fuselage were found approximately two miles from the first F-16 in a remote, wooded area as aerial searches were conducted.

Crews have found the wreckage of one of the F-16C fighters by early Wednesday, and the second F-16 was found around 3 p.m. Wednesday by the Georgia State Patrol with support from the S.C. Civil Air Patrol.

The jets were assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing, which operates out of McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover. The jets were part of a six-aircraft group that was scheduled to deploy at the end of the month. The crash leaves the unit with 26 aircraft.

"We have a true blessing that both of our pilots were well-experienced," Livingston said.

There have been no reports of injuries on the ground.

The two male pilots were taken to a hospital, said First Lt. Stephen Hudson, a spokesman for the Guard. They returned to McEntire Wednesday morning to talk about the crash with investigators. The SCANG has not released their names.

"They were taken to a local hospital for observation," Hudson said. "Apparently, there were no major injuries."

McEntire Joint National Guard Base Commander Col. Nick Gentile said both jets were destroyed. He said the jets were 1993 models that flew in Operation Iraqi Freedom's Shock and Awe campaign. Since then, the jets had been modified and updated.

"They're carrying much better systems now," Gentile said. "The aircraft systems and the pilots did everything they were supposed to do."

He also reported that both pilots were conducting the exercise wearing night-vision goggles, and they are among the most experienced in the unit.

A safety board from the SC Air National Guard went to the scene Tuesday night. Another group left McEntire Wednesday morning.

Gentile said ground teams were able to access the crash sites, but they are difficult to get to because they are "densely wooded areas."

The S.C. National Guard, the U.S. Air Force and local authorities are continuing to search for additional debris from the accident.

Gentile said some of the wreckage may contain hazardous materials, so anyone in Georgia who comes across pieces of the aircraft should stay away from it and call their local law enforcement agency or 803-647-8888. Teams are in Jefferson County ready to respond to reports of debris.

The Air Force is conducting a safety investigation.

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