Most of jet debris has been found
Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 10:12am
While armed men in fatigues continued to search the dense forest east of Louisville last Tuesday evening for debris from two wrecked fighter jets, one of their leaders debriefed Jefferson County commissioners on the incident that brought hundreds of military personnel.
Jefferson County’s Emergency Management Director Jim Anderson introduced commissioners during their regularly scheduled meeting to Col. Scott Bridgers, the incident commander since the morning after the two F-16s collided.
“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.
Bridgers thanked the commissioners and the community for the support they have provided, including use of the county recreation department gym which has housed over 100 Army military police.
“That air conditioned building was a savior because we had several people falling out from the heat,” Bridgers said.
Bridgers is the maintenance group commander of the 169 Fighter Wing out of McEntire National Guard base just outside of Columbia.
“A lot of people get us confused with Shaw Air Force Base just down the road in Sumter,” Bridgers said. “They have three squadrons of F-16s and we have one squadron of F-16s. If you ever see an F-16 in your airspace right above you in Bulldog MOA its from one of those four squadrons. Although a lot of other people use this airspace, it’s one of the busiest airspaces around, we appreciate your guys tolerating the noise we make up there.”
He debriefed the commission on the accident and the safety board investigation that has followed.
“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 of there 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 that each F-16 was worth about $30 million.
“And we lost two in this mishap,” he said. “And the things we had hanging on them…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 $1million each and other things, so that we’re probably talking about $70 or $80 million dollars that was lost the other night.”
Bridgers went on to explain that 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.”
He also said that the pilots involved in the collision were experienced aviators who were current in their airtime and training.
As of Tuesday, a week after that meeting with the commission, Anderson said that most of wreckage and debris has been accounted for.
“The only thing we are currently looking or is an ejection seat,” Anderson said. “Debris recovery operations are ongoing clearing the crash sites. It is anticipated that all operations will be completed in another 10 days.”