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Some from 167th still in hospitals

July 14, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A C-130 cargo plane carrying members from the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard dropped so fast during heavy turbulence Saturday off the East Coast that several members of the crew hit their heads on the ceiling of the aircraft, a base official said Sunday.

Anything that was not tied down was flying through the air with crew members, Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver said.

"They said some of them (crew members) landed on top of each other. It was kind of chaotic for a while," Sencindiver said Sunday.

Sencindiver said it was unclear how far the plane fell.

"It was probably such a shock to them, they probably didn't look at the altimeter," Sencindiver said.

Crew members on such a flight are not required to be strapped into their seats at all times, Sencindiver said. Similar to commercial flights, guard members on the flights can walk about freely on the plane during certain times, Sencindiver said.

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The plane and its 39 crew members made an emergency landing at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., after hitting the turbulence about 100 miles off the cost, Sencindiver said.

About 20 guard members suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken arms, rib fractures, back pain and neck stiffness, Sencindiver said. One crew member was in good condition at Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital with a pelvis injury, Sencindiver said.

Four of the guard members were recovering from injuries at the Portsmouth (Va.) Naval Facility Sunday and could be released today or Tuesday, Sencindiver said

The remaining 34 members of the crew arrived Sunday at the 167th's home base at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg.

Those who returned home Sunday will be checked again soon to make sure they are suffering no latent injuries from the incident, Sencindiver said.

Relatives of crew members - along with Gen. Allen E. Tackett, the adjutant general of West Virginia - greeted crew members at the base Sunday.

Tackett, who oversees all Army and Air Guard operations in the state, told crew members that the incident illustrates the problems that can occur on flights, Sencindiver said.

The plane was flying at 21,000 feet when it hit the turbulence, Sencindiver said. The path of the plane had been changed to avoid storms in the area, Sencindiver said.

Then, "out of the clear blue," the plane dropped, Sencindiver said.

Officials are checking the plane for any signs of damage at the Oceana Naval Air Station, Sencindiver said. If no damage is found on the plane, it could be returned to Berkeley County early this week, Sencindiver said.

The 39 members of the 167th Airlift Wing were sent to Puerto Rico to fly resupply missions and transport personnel throughout Central and South America, Sencindiver said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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