by Susanne M. Schafer,
Debris from a F-16 fighter jet and plane collision scatter the ground near Moncks Corner, S.C., Tuesday, July 7, 2015. People aboard the smaller Cessna were killed, and the plane was completely destroyed, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said. (WCIV-TV via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; LOCAL TV OUT
MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) — A man and his adult son were on board a small plane that was destroyed when it collided with an F-16 fighter jet over a rural, sparsely populated area in South Carolina, a coroner said Wednesday.
Authorities have recovered the body of 68-year-old Michael Johnson, the passenger, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said. They are still searching for the body of his son, 30-year-old Joseph Johnson, who was piloting the Cessna 150.
Debris from the collision, which happened near Moncks Corner, was scattered over a broad area about 20 miles northwest of Charleston, but there were no reports of any residents hurt or homes damaged, Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule said Tuesday.
An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was joining the investigation and the NTSB planned to hold a news conference Wednesday to announce its initial findings, spokesman Peter Knudson said.
The jet’s pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson from the 55th Fighter Squadron, ejected from his aircraft safely and was taken to Joint Base Charleston’s medical clinic for observation, officials from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter said in a news release.
The jet crashed into woods around the privately owned Lewisfield Plantation, an estate dating to 1750.
“We heard the plane crash,” said Leo Ramsey, who has worked at the plantation for about 30 years. “And then we took off from where I was at, I guess I was about a half-mile from it, when we saw a cloud of smoke.”
Ramsey and two other workers found burning metal, splintered trees and a flaming crater where the jet had crash-landed, he said.
Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, said Maj. Johnson parachuted to the ground and was taken by plantation workers to Berkeley County EMS personnel, who then took him to the Charleston base.
Johnson was flying solo, practicing instrument approaches to a military base and was communicating with Charleston air traffic controllers, military officials said.
Jost said he thought it was overcast at the time of the collision, but he was not aware of any weather-related problems.
It wasn’t clear if a flight plan had been filed, but Berkeley County officials say the civilian pilot had indicated he was traveling to Myrtle Beach.
The Air Force has flown F-16s since the 1970s, though very few active-duty squadrons still fly them. F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, about 35 miles east of Columbia, routinely fly training missions over eastern South Carolina and the Atlantic.
The Cessna 150 is a two-seat plane that debuted in 1959 and remains one of the most common single-engine planes in the U.S. Most models weigh about 1,500 pounds when fully fueled.
By comparison, an F-16 is about 50 feet long and weighs nearly 10 tons, not counting fuel or weapons. Jost said the F-16 was not carrying any live munitions at the time of the collision.