Nine Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG) aviators and soldiers were killed Wednesday when the decades-old C-130 cargo transport plane they were piloting crashed right after takeoff from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport onto a Georgia state highway. The aircraft, from Puerto Rico’s 156th Airlift Wing, had been in Savannah for maintenance.
The craft made it less than a mile before plunging to the ground, exploding into a fireball of thick black smoke and flames witnessed by many on the ground including motorists just several hundred yards away.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
The aviators and soldiers were part of the fleet of Air Transport Wing 156 of the National Air Guard, which operates from Base Muñiz, in Carolina. The 156th Airlift Wing is home to the Bucaneros, more than 1,200 bilingual aviators in service since 1949.
The dead are:
Maj. José R. Román Rosado, pilot, had 18 years of service. From Manati, Roman Rosado is survived by his wife and two sons.
Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra, aircraft navigator had 23 years of service. Fom Canóvanas, Pérez Serra is survived by his wife, two sons and daughter.
1st Lt. David Albandoz, co-pilot, had 16 years of service. From Puerto Rico, Albandoz, had been living in Madison, Alabama. Albandoz is survived by his wife and daughter.
Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini, aircraft mechanic had 21 years of service. Paravisini is from Canóvanas and is survived by two daughters and son.
Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred had 16 years of service, is from Carolina and is survived by his wife and two sons.
Master Sgt. Mario Braña, the flight engineer had 17 years of service. Braña is from Bayamón and is survived by his mother and daughter.
Master Sgt. Víctor Colón, who had 22 years of service is from Santa Isabel and is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, loadmaster, had 31 years of service. Circuns is from Rio Grande and is survived by his wife, two step-daughters and son.
Senior Airman Roberto Espada, with three years of service is from Salinas and is survived by his grandmother.
El Vocero reported the aircraft “was going to a base in Tucson, Arizona, where it would be confiscated after about 60 years of service.”
The bodies of the nine killed were taken to Dover Air Force Base for identification and preparation for transport to Puerto Rico as of Thursday May 3, National Guard Public Affairs Officer Paul Dahlen told El Vocero.
The Governor of Puerto Rico and president of the New Progressive Party Ricardo Rossello asked for a moment of silence May 3 to honor the lost aviators and soldiers.
“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. “We are fully supporting them and providing all the assistance and resources of the Puerto Rico National Guard during this difficult moment.”
The Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Red Cross has also been supporting the families since day one with mental health and spiritual care resources.
Muñiz Air National Guard Base suffered extensive damage as a result of devastating hurricanes Maria and Irma.
The Georgia Air National Guard’s 202nd Engineering Installation Squadron deployed to Muñiz to help repair and restore the communications infrastructure at the base after the hurricanes.
“Three months into my command, our wing was devastated by two back-to-back category-four hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and we’re still in that process continuing to work with higher level command to get us through the recovery phases and rebuild the wing,” said Col. Raymond Figueroa, wing commander of the 156th Airlift Wing said last year.
Brig. Gen. Rivera has said the PRANG fleet is outdated and decaying and told the Associated Press of its six C-130’s, two are broken and the one that crashed was on its last flight.
“The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes …,” Rivera told the AP.