NEW: Jets collide during training ahead of upcoming deployment
NEW: Both pilots eject safely, get checked out at hospital, commander says
Two South Carolina Air National Guard fighter jets involved in training ahead of an upcoming deployment collided Tuesday night over rural Georgia, forcing both pilots to eject safely, according to a unit commander.
The F-16C jets crashed in a heavily wooded area of Jefferson County, Georgia, according to Col. Nicholas Gentile Jr., commander of the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Columbia, South Carolina.
The pilots ejected and were taken to a Georgia hospital for evaluation before returning to South Carolina, Gentile said.
Authorities have located the bulk of the wreckage and do not believe anyone on the ground was injured, Gentile said. He said anyone who finds additional pieces of wreckage should not touch them for safety reasons but instead call police or the National Guard.
Gentile declined to discuss what led to the collision but said it occurred during routine training for the unit’s air defense suppression mission.
A lengthy investigation is expected, according to Brig. Gen. Roy McCarty, assistant adjutant general for South Carolina.
The unit will temporarily suspend flight operations to focus on the investigation but is expected to return to the air by the end of the week to prepare for an upcoming deployment, Gentile said.
He did not say where the unit is headed.
The collision comes nearly a week after a U.S. Air Force F-16 assigned to the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team crashed following a flyover at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
There is no reason to think the crashes are related despite the similarity in aircraft models, Gentile said.