July 11, 2009
MANTEE - A T-6 Texan II primary trainer costs $4.27 million. But to Col. Roger Watkins, a student pilot''s life is far more valuable.
Watkins, commander of Columbus Air Force Base''s 14th Flying Training Wing, stood before the front yard of a house on Mantee Road where a T-6 had crash-landed and created a crater, and provided the few details available about the crash, as well as his feelings about it.
"I was very relieved to know that the pilot was safe," Watkins said. "That was how I felt."
The crash took place at about 5:50 p.m. Thursday. Countless parts of the plane were strewn around the yard, but neither the pilot nor the ejector seat was there. The pilot had landed about half a mile from the plane crash site, Watkins said.
Webster County emergency officials responded to the crash almost immediately after it happened. They took the pilot to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, Watkins said, and he was released the same night, having been treated for some scratches.
After the crash, Watkins said he''d received a call on his cell phone about a missing aircraft. First and foremost, he said, he was concerned about the safety of the personnel. He was unsure if one or two pilots occupied the missing plane.
He and other CAFB officials convened and executed action plans, he said. "This is one of the exact scenarios that we train for," he continued. "That''s what that training''s all about."
Columbus, Lowndes County and Webster County institutions, as well as Air Force officials, responded to the crash in the next several hours. Some Air Force officials reportedly did not leave the site until 2 a.m. Friday. Later on Friday, a hazardous-material truck and Regional Response vehicles were also on hand.
The base was establishing a board to investigate the incident. The name and nationality of the pilot are withheld, pending coordination with the officer''s embassy, said CAFB officials.
"Something''s not right"
One responder on Thursday night was Derek May, chief deputy in the Webster County Sheriff''s Office.
He said he was about 10 miles away from the crash, speaking with people on a phone call, when he heard "the boom."
"We just kinda sat there and looked at each other ''something''s not right,''" he said. He got on the radio and found out what had happened.
May drove to the site of the crash and found the pilot in an ambulance. May asked the pilot if he was OK.
"He was kinda mumbled there, but he responded that he was OK," May said.
At 5:45 p.m., Simpson Wofford, 41, got back to his house on Mantee Road after driving from Dallas, Tex., where he visited his children. A few minutes later, he was unpacking and anxious to make himself a sandwich for dinner, he said, when he heard a siren.
He looked out the window of his house on, about half a mile from the crash site, and saw a Mantee Volunteer Fire Department truck driving in the direction where he''d come from.
Soon thereafter, he received a phone call from a neighbor about a plane crash on Mantee Road.
He got into his car and drove in the direction in which he saw the fire truck going, but the road was already blocked. He realized he had narrowly missed being hit by the plane, or at least being involved somehow in the crash.
"Maybe God was with me that day, you know what I mean?" he said, laughing.
Last crash in 2008
The crash follows several others involving aircraft from Columbus Air Force Base.
The most recent crash took place April 23, 2008, when student pilot 2nd Lt. Matthew Emmons and instructor pilot Maj. David Faulkner crashed a T-38C Talon trainer on the CAFB runway.
Two T-6As collided near Shuqualak during training Nov. 28, 2007, and the cause was determined to be pilot error. All four pilots in the planes ejected safely, and there were no fatalities.
While in final contact phase of a training mission, a T-37 trainer crashed about 28 miles west of the air base Sept. 5, 2001. The pilot ejected safely, and there were no fatalities.
And during a post-maintenance functional check flight, an AT-38 trainer crashed near Becker. The pilot ejected safely, and there were no fatalities. According to Air Education and Training Command officials, material failure caused the crash.