June 11, 2016 – LOUISVILLE, Ga. (WIS-TV) —First responders in eastern Georgia say the pilots of two fighter jets from the South Carolina Air National Guard that crashed at a rural bombing range were talking normally when they were found Tuesday night.
“They were able to walk away,” said McEntire Joint National Guard Base Commander Col. Nick Gentile.
The collision happened about 9:15 p.m. during routine night-flying operations over a military operating area in Jefferson County, Georgia.
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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.
McEntire Base Commander Col. Nick Gentile said the pilots have returned to South Carolina and are with their families.
“Both pilots are safe,” he said. “Both pilots are in good condition.”
“We have a true blessing that both of our pilots were well-experienced,” said Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Livingston with the SCANG. “They did eject safely. They are at home with their families…the best circumstances have evolved and we are blessed on that.”
There have been no reports of injuries on the ground.
The two male pilots were taken to a hospital, said 1st Lt. Stephen Hudson, a spokesman for the Guard.
“They were taken to a local hospital for observation,” Hudson said. “Apparently there were no major injuries.”
Gentile said both aircraft 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.”
A safety board from the SC Air National Guard went to the scene Tuesday night. Another group left McEntire Wednesday morning. Officials plan to provide another update at noon Wednesday.
The pilots were conducting a training mission over Georgia airspace in an area known as the Townsend Range, Hudson said, about 40 miles southwest of Augusta. The region is used by the South Carolina Air National Guard for such training.
Hudson said it appeared the two aircraft crashed in separate locations, apparently wooded areas.
“We are dealing with two crash sites,” Hudson said.
Gentile said ground teams have been able to access the crash sites but they are difficult to get to because they are “densely wooded areas.”
Local first responders were securing the area and providing emergency services. The Air Force will conduct a safety investigation.
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.
Gentile said the 169th Fighter Wing is scheduled to deploy at the end of the week and the crash leaves the unit with 26 aircraft.
The collision comes after both of the military’s precision flying teams suffered crashes last week.
A Blue Angels F/A-18 crashed last Thursday near Nashville, Tennessee, while taking off for a practice session. The pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, was killed.
Also Thursday, a Thunderbirds F-16 crashed outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, but that pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, ejected safely. The Thunderbirds had just performed over the open-air graduation ceremony at the nearby Air Force Academy, where President Barack Obama spoke.
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