PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - One year ago Thursday, first responders from around Chatham County and beyond showed up in force to help in any way they could following the crash of a Puerto Rico Air National Guard C-130 in Port Wentworth.
It’s a day many of those responders still think about, and our Sean Evans spoke to some of the first on scene as they reflected on what they saw and heard just moments after the plane went down.
“We’ll never forget that day. Never. There’s calls that we will never forget," said Effingham County EMS Paramedic, Darrin Pelham.
Pelham and his partner, EMT Johnathan Collins, were by chance among the first, first responders on scene, just moments after the Air National Guard plane went down. They were driving back to Effingham County on Highway 21 after taking someone to the hospital in Savannah when they saw a massive fireball less than a mile ahead.
“As strange as it would be, we were transporting somebody that we know, and we took just a couple of extra minutes at the hospital to talk to that person, so we could’ve been in a whole lot worse place, so that kind of shook us a little bit," Pelham said.
The Effingham EMS team rushed to get as close as they safely could to the crash site and went to work, not only looking for survivors, but also making sure bystanders didn’t put themselves in harm’s way by getting too close to the fiery debris.
Pelham, an Army veteran, said, “I knew exactly what kind of plane it was. I called out on the radio what kind of plane it was, I called out the tail number...”
It was that radio transmission that caught the attention of other first responders, and not only in Chatham County.
“The first thing I noticed was you can hear heightened excitement in someone’s voice when something is happening like that, and I heard the call go out, I couldn’t exactly tell what was going on until I heard a tail number, and then I knew, that was a plane crash," said Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy and Public Information Officer, Gena Sullivan.
Without hesitation, Sullivan and others from her office rushed toward Chatham County on Highway 21, arriving at the crash site about 20 minutes after impact.
“I could not even tell there was a tail section when I got there, the smoke was so thick and heavy," Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s role would be handing off information to the dozens of media, local and national, who showed up looking to relay details to the public about the crash, and the nine C-130 crew members.
“My deepest condolences to their families. It was a horrific, horrific accident and we are blessed beyond belief that nobody else was injured in it," Sullivan said.
Now a year later, those we spoke to say the memories of that day are still fresh, especially as they pass the area where the plane went down.
“I immediately go to the thought, and my first image of the smoke and everything and us pulling up and seeing the tail, and just all those emotions come back no matter what you’re doing going through there," said Effingham County EMS EMT, Johnathan Collins.
“Every time I go through there, I think about it,” Pelham said. "Every time I hit that stretch of fresh grass, or the trees that are missing in that area, it hits me. I always think about it. Every time I see a C-130 flying over, I think about it. Whenever I see a ball of smoke, whether it be a forest fire or house fire or whatever...anytime I see a good amount of smoke, I think about it. It stays with you.”