SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - There's a lot to discuss when it comes to not only the investigation into the C-130 plane crash in Port Wentworth on Wednesday but also the impacts the crash will have on our community for the weeks and perhaps months ahead.
When people hear that the C-130 in question has been in the air for 50 or more years, eyebrows start to raise. Most of us an only equate the things we own to this kind of long-term use, such as our homes, our cars, and electronics. Aircraft, particularly military aircraft, are not like the family sedan.
It's true that the Puerto Rican Air National Guard's fleet of C-130s is the oldest in the nation, and it's also true that this particular aircraft was on its way to Tucson's 'boneyard' to be used for scrap. However, the fact that this plane has spent five decades in service is less a distress call on our aging military equipment than a testament to the amazing work done by U.S. Military maintenance crews around the world.
John Rogers spent 10 years as a member of Air Force maintenance crews for the KC-135 and C-17. This summer, he will be part of the Savannah Air National Guard's C-130 maintenance staff, and can't wait to work with these servicemen and women.
"These are types of people you want to work for. You want to do as they say. 'Yessir,' whatever it is, because they have the personality, they have the character, they sacrifice for you as a leader, and they recover you and do certain things for you that assure that they value what you do every day," Rogers said.
Crashes like Wednesday's are personal for guys like this.
"It was definitely devastating, extremely close to heart," Rogers said. "It hit very close to home. I spent a lot of time, countless flights, a lot of time in the air for it to be this close, and I know exactly what they're experiencing - many, many, many military duties and business and such - and so my deepest condolences for the families."
The C-130 has been a proud bird. Over the aircraft's 60 years total of service, there are few rolls it has not filled, and outside of wartime, few fatal incidents like we saw this week.
"This is kind of an anomaly if I can say that, comfortably say that, because there are so many flights every day on every military base across the world, and very unfortunately, this is one of those that bakes into that one percent, two percent of catastrophic events. You know, we train for it as much as possible, but absolutely, unfortunately, there are some that will have events like this," Rogers said.
To call the nation's fleet of C-130s 'old' is accurate. To call them less than airworthy would be an insult to guys like Rogers.
"It is definitely a testament to the structure and the organization and the planning. There's a lot that goes on to keep these flying regularly, to continue the defense of America on an ongoing basis here at home and abroad, so there are very rigorous technical things that are in place, there are schedules and deadlines and qualifications that you have to meet just to keep these things safe for flight," Rogers said.
Rogers says there probably isn't a single cable beneath the skin of these aircraft that matches the age of the plane.
'Is it safe to say that the shell of this aircraft is what is 50 years old? Just about everything else has been updated multiple times over the years,' we asked Rogers?
"Yes, all the time. It needs to be to continue the mission flights to defend the Constitution, to stay on the cutting edge of the defense of the country, it absolutely needs to be."
While the military is telling us they have not talked to the tower about anything relayed to controllers before the crash, we have confirmed with an FAA source that moments before the plane crashed, the pilot had radioed back to Savannah International with a distress call and a request to clear a runway for an emergency landing. Whatever happened to that plane in mid-flight was not going to allow the pilot to do that.