MONCKS CORNER, S.C. » An F-16 fighter jet smashed into a small plane Tuesday over South Carolina, killing two people and raining down plane parts and debris over a wide swath of marshes and rice fields.
The two people aboard the smaller Cessna were killed, and the plane was completely destroyed, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said. The pilot of the F-16 ejected and "is apparently uninjured," he said.
A press release from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter said the pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson from the 55th Fighter Squadron, was taken to Joint Base Charleston’s medical clinic for observation.
The fighter jet crash-landed into woods around the privately owned Lewisfield Plantation, an estate dating to 1750.
"We heard the plane crash. And then we took off from where I was at, I guess I was about a half-mile from it, when we saw a cloud of smoke," said Leo Ramsey, who’s worked at the plantation for about 30 years.
He and two other co-workers went out to the flaming spot where the jet had crash-landed into some of the wooded acreage around the plantation, Ramsey said. They found burning metal, splintered trees and a crater where the empty jet crashed, he said.
The NTSB is investigating the cause.
Debris was scattered across a wide swath of the sparsely populated area about 20 miles northwest of Charleston, though there were no reports of anyone being hurt or any homes being damaged on the ground, Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule said.
A witness reported that the military plane broadsided the Cessna, said Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury. Officials said during a news conference that most of the debris was in a marshy area, including a rice field.
Wayne Ware told The Post and Courier of Charleston he was going for a walk when he heard the crash happen. He did not see the initial impact, but heard it.
"I turned around, and I saw the jet. Pieces started falling out of the sky," Ware said, telling the paper the jet’s engine landed at a campground.
The fighter pilot was flying solo practicing instrument approaches to a military base and was communicating with Charleston air traffic controllers, military officials said.
Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air force Base, said the pilot was on his cellphone as soon as he parachuted to the ground.
Jost said workers at the plantation picked up the pilot and took him to Berkeley County EMS workers, who took him to the Charleston base.
It wasn’t clear if a flight plan had been filed, but Berkeley County officials say the civilian pilot had indicated he was traveling to Myrtle Beach.
Jost said he thought it was overcast at the time of the collision, but he was not aware of any weather-related problems.
The Air Force has flown F-16s since the 1970s, though very few active-duty squadrons still fly them. F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, about 35 miles east of Columbia, routinely fly training missions over eastern South Carolina and the Atlantic.
The smaller plane was a Cessna 150, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a two-seat plane that debuted in 1959 and remains one of the most common single-engine planes in the U.S.
The Cessna 150’s maximum altitude is about 15,000 feet, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Most models weigh about 1,500 pounds when fully fueled. By comparison, an F-16 is about 50 feet long and weighs nearly 10 tons, not counting fuel or weapons. Jost said the F-16 was not carrying any live munitions at the time of the collision.
Associated Press writers Jack Jones in Columbia, and Emery Dalesio and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.