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F-16 Jet, Cessna Airplane Collide Over South Carolina

(Andrew Knapp)  A Sumter-based F-16C fighter jet and a Cessna 150C private airplane collided Tuesday morning in the sky over a Berkeley County rice plantation, a Federal Aviation Administration official said.

The midair collision was reported after 11 a.m. in the Moncks Corner area about 25 miles north of Charleston, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. Peters said he did not immediately have any further details, including information on the fate of the pilot and any passengers on the Cessna.

The military pilot from Shaw Air Force Base survived after ejecting from the damaged F-16, which is nicknamed the “Fighting Falcon.” A Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services crew said that he was alert and walking.

In addition to the FAA, the National

Transportation Safety Board and the Air Force have sent investigators to the crash site. Michael Mule, spokesman for Berkeley County, said the authorities had set up an incident command post at the Big Lots shopping plaza at 1013 Old Highway 52.

The initial collision site was reported to be at Lewisfield Plantation, a sprawling property off Old U.S. Highway 52 and along the Cooper River that is owned by the Dennis family. The area just south of Lake Moultrie is about 3 miles southeast of the Berkeley County Airport.

Witnesses near the plantation reported hearing what sounded like an explosion before the single-engine, two-seat Cessna went down into a watery rice field while the jet veered leftward. First-responders found the private plane in about 2 feet of water.

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury, who also leads a volunteer rescue squad, said the F-16 had struck the Cessna broadside.

Debris was spread out over the plantation property and surrounding areas.

Wayne Ware, who lives on McCrae Drive just south of the plantation, was going for a walk when he heard the collision.

“I didn’t see it; I heard it,” Ware said. “I turned around, and I saw the jet. Pieces started falling out of the sky. His engine is lying right there at the campground.”

Kathryn Dennis, a star of the “Southern Charm” reality television show, was at her family home at Lewisfield Plantation when she “heard some crash sounds.” That was about 11:30 a.m. She heard sirens for some time after that.

“There are pieces of aircraft around the rice fields,” she said. “There are parts of the plane in our yard.”

First responders reported seeing a “debris field” from the F-16 near Medway Plantation, which is south of the initial site.

That’s where the U.S. Coast Guard said that one of its helicopters lowered a rescue swimmer to tend to the fighter pilot.

But county EMS paramedics said the pilot later managed to walk to an ambulance from where he touched down at the plantation.

Officials from Shaw Air Force Base confirmed on Twitter that one of their F-16 jets had gone down and that the pilot was accounted for.

Photos taken by onlookers of the F-16 wreckage showed “55” and a pair of dice painted on the tail section. The 55th Fighter Squadron is part of the 20th Fighter Wing based at Shaw. The wing also hosts the 77th and 79th fighter squadrons and provides facilities, personnel and material for the base’s operation.

Since the first flight of the F-16 in 1974, aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin has led the design and development of the Fighting Falcon by providing structural and avionics upgrades.

“The F-16 Fighting Falcon has proven itself as the world’s most capable fourth generation multi-role fighter, serving as the workhorse of the fighter fleet for 28 customers around the world,” the company’s website stated. “With more than four decades of technological advancements and 138 different configurations, today’s F-16s have matured far beyond the original variants — they are much more capable, versatile and advanced.”

Emergency personnel were told not to touch any of the jet parts, whether in the woods or on the water, according to radio communications. Responders also were told to stay upwind of the F-16 crash site because of the potential for exposure to hydrazine, a toxic fuel used by the aircraft’s emergency power unit.