Editor’s note: Videos included in this story first published May 2 & Nov. 8 of 2018
PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) – Nine military members were on board a C-130 aircraft when it came crashing down onto Highway 21 in Port Wentworth on May 2, 2018. The cargo plane, operated by the Puerto Rico National Guard, crashed at 11:28 a.m. shortly after taking off from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
The crash happened on a usually busy roadway near train tracks, but no one on the ground was injured.
Surveillance video from a nearby business showed the cargo plane nose-diving before a cloud of thick black smoke appeared.
Puerto Rico National Guard officials said the plane was on the way to Arizona. The aircraft was attached to the Air Transport Wing 156 of the Muñiz Air National Guard Base.
The names of the nine fallen airmen are:
- Maj. José R. Román Rosado – Pilot – 18 years of service – from Manati, PR. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
- Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra – Navigator – 23 years of service – from Canóvanas, PR. He is survived by his wife, two sons and daughter.
- 1st Lt. David Albandoz – Co-Pilot – 16 years of service – from PR, recently residing in Madison, Alabama. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
- Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini – Mechanic – 21 years of service – from Canóvanas, PR. He is survived by two daughters and son.
- Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred – 16 years of service – from Carolina, PR. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
- Master Sgt. Mario Braña – Flight Engineer – 17 years of service – from Bayamón, PR. He is survived by his mother and daughter.
- Master Sgt. Víctor Colón – 22 years of service – from Santa Isabel, PR. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
- Master Sgt. Eric Circuns – Loadmaster – 31 years of service – from Rio Grande, PR. He is survived by his wife, two step-daughters and son.
- Senior Airman Roberto Espada- three years of service – from Salinas, PR. He is survived by his grandmother.
The Puerto Rico National Guard said they will continue to support the families for as long it takes.
“Taking care of our fallen Airmen’s families and loved ones is our top priority,” said the Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera in a press release. “We are fully supporting them and providing all the assistance and resources of the Puerto Rico National Guard during this difficult moment.”
‘Honoring the fallen’
The City of Port Wentworth hosted a memorial service on May 12 to honor the nine National Guard Airmen who tragically lost their lives during the fatal plane crash on May 2. Many from the community came out to pay their respects.
“When one person in any branch passes on, it touches everybody, because I’m sure there’s a sixth degree where somebody here knows somebody that knows somebody that’s affected by it,” said Timothy Gaines, the Low Master Superintendent of the 165th Airlift Wing. Gaines said he was friends with five out of the nine airmen who died on the plane.
On May 8, the 911 calls relating to the crash were released, detailing the harrowing moment witnesses saw a military cargo plane fall from the sky. The panic in some of the voices spoke volumes.
“Oh my God it’s on Highway 21, it crashed right on Highway 21,” said a woman who called 911 on May 2, 2018. She was driving up on the Puerto Rico National Guard plane that had gone down in the middle of a highway. Nine airmen aboard all died.
Calls began flooding into the 911 Emergency Center at 11:27 a.m., apparently just a minute or two after the plane seemed to drop from the sky.
“It just literally nose-dived onto the road,” said one caller.
“We watched it make a barrel roll and go straight into the ground,” said a man who had dialed 911.
Many callers did recognize it as a military cargo plane. Several men specifically referred to the plane as a C-130.
Just over a month the deadly crash, Highway 21 was reopened. GDOT worked with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Savannah Air National Guard to give the all clear.
According to officials, the 156th Airlift Wing Aviators were on a mission to deliver the aircraft from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport to its retirement at a U.S. Air Force base in Arizona.
‘Cause of accident’
On Nov. 9, the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command released their investigation and authorities found that “the cause of the accident was pilot error.”
The report says one engine failed during takeoff, and “the mishap crew failed to properly apply normal and emergency procedures to address the situation.”
The pilot was identified as Maj. José R. Román Rosado. He lived in Manati, Puerto Rico and served for 18 years. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
His co-pilot was identified as 1st Lt. David Albandoz. Albandoz lived in Puerto Rico and Madison, Alabama. Albandoz is survived by his wife and daughter.
Read more details of the report:
While rolling down the runway, during initial takeoff, the left outermost engine, also referred to as the number one engine, experienced significant decay in RPMs and torque which substantially lowered thrust (the force which moves the aircraft through the air).
The thrust deficiency went unrecognized by the crew until moments before liftoff when the aircraft veered left and nearly departed the runway into the grass before achieving flight. Upon initial ascent, the mishap crew failed to properly apply normal and emergency procedures to address the situation, including improper application of left rudder and making a left turn in the direction of the failed engine.
The improper application of a left rudder resulted in a left-wing stall. The aircraft descended and impacted the terrain on Georgia State Highway 21. No bystanders were harmed by the crash.
Ultimately, after an extensive engineering and human factors analysis it was identified by a preponderance of the evidence the cause of the accident was pilot error. Failure to follow procedures and checklists placed the aircraft in a dangerous flight position and vulnerable to an errant rudder input. The subsequent application of left rudder by the pilot resulted in the loss of aircraft control and ultimate aircraft mishap.
Substantial contributing factors to the mishap include the crew’s failure to adequately prepare for emergency actions, discontinue the takeoff, properly execute appropriate after-takeoff and engine shutdown checklists and procedures; and ground maintenance before the mission failed to properly diagnose and repair the malfunction with engine one which reoccurred during takeoff on the mishap flight.
The full report is available here. The investigation team was led by Brig. Gen. John C. Millard, Deputy Director, AMC Strategic Plans, Requirements, and Programs.