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Four injured Guard members return after turbulent flight

July 16, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Four Air National Guard members injured when their plane hit turbulence Saturday over the Atlantic Ocean returned home Tuesday morning, while one soldier remained hospitalized in Virginia.

Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver, a base official with Martinsburg's 167th Airlift Wing, said the soldiers who came home were in pain and needed to be assisted off the plane.

"I could tell some of them were still shaken as they re-lived the encounter," he said. Nobody suffered life-threatening injuries.

Although the injured soldiers will need additional medical care, Sencindiver said he does not anticipate that any will be hospitalized.

Because of an ongoing investigation, Sencindiver could not release any names of the soldiers involved. Investigators, who will come from another base to avoid any conflict of interest, will look at the cause and effects of the incident and determine whether anything can be done in the future to prevent a similar problem.

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About 20 of the 39 Guard members aboard the C-130 Hercules cargo plane were injured, but most were able to come home Sunday. The members of the 167th Airlift Wing had been stationed in Puerto Rico and were flying support missions in Central America and South America.

Although the soldiers were to be re-deployed to the desert in about a week, those plans have been postponed for at least a few weeks, Sencindiver said. They left for Puerto Rico in early March.

Flying at around 21,000 feet, the plane hit turbulence 100 to 150 miles off the coast near the Virginia-North Carolina state line, Sencindiver said.

The soldiers were injured when the plane quickly lost altitude and then just as quickly re-gained it. When the plane fell, some Guard members flew upward and hit the plane's ceiling or other objects. When the plane stabilized, they fell to the floor, Sencindiver said.

Two certified emergency medical technicians aboard helped provide assistance to those who were seriously injured.

Although C-130s are equipped with seat belts, passengers are allowed to do activities such as stretch, go to the restroom and get a drink during a flight.

The most seriously injured soldier, who remains in Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital, suffered a pelvic-area injury and was in good condition, Sencindiver said.

Before hitting the turbulence, the plane had diverted from its original course to avoid thunderstorms. It made an emergency landing at Oceana Naval Air Station near Virginia Beach, Va.

An eight-person maintenance team aboard the C-130 stayed at Oceana to inspect it for damage.

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