May 16, 2005 – Eight V.I. National Guardsmen were injured Sunday as they made their way back home from annual training exercises on the U.S. mainland. One of the injured was reported to be in critical condition after the KC-135 military aircraft they were traveling in suddenly lost altitude and fell hundreds of feet through the air.
According to Sgt. Karen Williams, spokeswoman for the V.I. National Guard on Monday, the plane, which was on its way to St. Thomas from Florida, made an emergency landing in the Turks and Caicos. A C-130 jumbo transport was dispatched Monday morning from St. Croix to pick up close to three-dozen guardsmen who were also on that Sunday flight.
The eight injured were transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. and Eisenhower Hospital in Fort Gordon, Ga. In all about 40 people were believed to have been on board, having completed weapons training held at Camp Blanding, Fla.
"We're also expecting the others to be transported to Schneider Hospital for first aid when they arrive," Williams said. She said she did not know the nature of the injuries involved among those receiving emergency care.
The plane carrying the remaining personnel reportedly left the Turks and Caicos around 1 p.m. Monday. National Guard officials and a medical team is expected to meet them when they touch down at the Cyril E. King Airport around 3:30 p.m. Military officials also say they are expected to meet with family members at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital around 3 p.m. to brief them on the incident.
A press conference is expected to take place later Monday afternoon at Schneider Hospital.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and V.I. National Guard Adjutant Gen. Eddy Charles were advised of the incident on Sunday. The governor was attending commencement ceremonies at the University of the Virgin Islands at the time. He briefly appeared on a Monday morning radio talk show to tell the public what he knew of the situation and said he would be returning to St. Thomas shortly. Charles was at the St. Thomas headquarters of the V.I.Territorial Emergency Management Agency Monday morning, where he was contacted by a reporter but declined comment, deferring instead to his spokeswoman.
The governor said he was told that 40 St. Thomas guardsmen and a larger group from St. Croix, traveling on a separate plane, were both caught in some kind of air turbulence but the St. Croix plane did not experience the same effects and those personnel had returned to the big island.
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