Most of the wreckage from two military jets that collided over Jefferson County has been found, according to officials heading the search.
“The only thing we are currently looking for is an ejection seat,” county Emergency Management Director Jim Anderson said. “Debris recovery operations are ongoing clearing the crash sites. It is anticipated that all operations will be completed in another 10 days.”
Two South Carolina National Guard F-16s collided June 7 during a training exercise over Jefferson County. The jets clipped each other during combat training maneuvers against electronic warfare targets and emitters. The pilots safely ejected and were found after an hourlong search in a remote, densely wooded area.
A search has been ongoing since the crash to retrieve wreckage. Anderson offered his assessment of the operation to county commissioners Tuesday night.
“Today I believe we had 182 total personnel out searching, including some Army military police who have been here the last few days who have a new appreciation for our mosquitoes and snakes,” Anderson told the commissioners.
Col. Scott Bridgers, the maintenance group commander of the 169th Fighter Wing out of McEntire Joint National Guard Base just outside Columbia, thanked the commissioners and the community for their support, including use of the county recreation department gym, which has housed more than 100 Army military police.
“That air-conditioned building was a savior because we had several people falling out from the heat,” Bridgers said.
He debriefed the commission on the accident and the safety board investigation.
“Luckily the pilots didn’t have hardly a scratch on them, they were fine and that’s kind of amazing in this environment at night,” Bridgers said. “Fortunately the jets landed in unpopulated areas and there was no damage to any folks’ homes or businesses or anybody on the ground.”
One plane clipped some trees, went down and burned just down Highway 17, a couple of miles from the Louisville airport. The second plane crash-landed about a mile northeast, off Eden Church Road.
“It dug kind of a hole in the ground,” Bridgers said. “Some fuel leaked out and we were able to get a pumper truck in there to pump that fuel out and try to mitigate any type of hazards. We will continue after we remove that aircraft to mitigate any type of hazards there. We have a bio-environmental team here and other folks who will look into it.”
Bridgers said each F-16 was worth about $30 million.
“And we lost two in this mishap,” he said. “ When they hit, the right wings tore apart and some of those missiles – they’re inert, they aren’t live missiles so don’t worry about that – those missiles fell off. We’ve recovered about 90 percent of everything that’s there. Those missiles cost quite a bit, and there were sniper pods on there and they cost about $1 million each and other things, so that we’re probably talking about $70 or $80 million that was lost the other night.”
Bridgers said these F-16s were built in 1992 and 1993 and are some of the youngest in the Air Force with the fewest hours.
“Our aircraft have about 5,400 hours on them and they’ll only go to 8,000 hours,” he said. “They’ve got maybe another 10 years but then we’ll get upgraded and they’ll probably go to 2035.”