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Special Event

Florida National Guard Comments on Plane Crash

Aired March 3, 2001 - 4:23 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: We want to switch quickly to WJXT, our affiliate bringing us the military briefing from St. Augustine, Florida on the plane crash that happened in Georgia today.

MAJOR GENERAL RONALD O. HARRISON, FLORIDA ADJUTANT GENERAL: The aircraft had 21 personnel aboard. There were no survivors.

The aircraft was on a routine mission from Hurlburt Airforce base, near Panama City, heading to Oceana, Virginia. The aircraft has a crew of three personnel, and was carrying 18 personnel aboard.

There were three Florida National Guard crew members who belonged to Det-1, Detachment 1, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation of Lakeland, Florida. The 18 passengers were from the 203rd Redhorse flight, Virginia Air National Guard.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their friends, and they are our main concern now. The C-23 Sherpa aircraft is a small auxiliary transport aircraft. The Florida National Guard has two of these aircrafts assigned to our aviation support facility at Lakeland Lanier airport in Lakeland, Florida.

This accident is presently under investigation by the Army Safety Office of Fort Rucker, Alabama.

QUESTION: When you say it was a routine mission, what exactly was involved in that mission?

HARRISON: Well, the normal mission for this Sherpa aircraft is to carry personnel and cargo of any other services, and many times it's from one National Guard state to another, but it's on a routine mission that carries personnel.

QUESTION: And do they typically carry military personnel as well and how does that work? They were headed back to Virginia?

HARRISON: The majority of the time they carry military personnel, or perhaps DOD, Department of Defense personnel. They were headed back from Hurlburt, where the unit had been apparently doing a mission there, and moving them back to Oceana, Virginia, which is, I understand, their home base.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what the cause of the crash might have been? HARRISON: Do not have any idea.

QUESTION: There were reports of severe weather, I believe, moving into that area, do you believe that could be related?

HARRISON: We have heard the same reports, and I don't have any idea whether that was the cause, but we understand there were thunder showers in that area.

QUESTION: What were the reports on the scene? Were there eyewitness reports?

HARRISON: I haven't heard of any of those eyewitness reports. We had people that had to get to the crash site, off of 75, I understand, but I don't know of any eyewitnesses or eyewitness reports at this time.

QUESTION: Was there any -- I mean, was it extensive damage?

HARRISON: Again, we understand that the damage was obviously severe, that the aircraft was perhaps torn apart severely. I don't know any more than that.

Of course, we have people on the way to that site now, and the FAA and the safety team from Fort Rucker is, of course, inbound also.

QUESTION: This aircraft was going from Lakeland (OFF-MIKE) as a transport, right?

HARRISON: Correct.

QUESTION: And the pilot -- how many -- you said a crew of three?

HARRISON: A crew of three. All from Florida, yes. The crew was, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have similar planes here in this area?

HARRISON: We do not. We have the two Sherpas stationed in Lakeland, and we don't have any of those up this way.

QUESTION: Do you have a record of that plane? Do you know how long it's been used?

HARRISON: Well, we've had this plane since 1997.

QUESTION: Was it a new plain at that point?

HARRISON: I believe it was. I don't know which plane exactly it was of the two, but I believe it was new. I'm not really sure of that.

QUESTION: And how large are they, and how many people do they typically hold?

HARRISON: They will typically hold about 25 to 30, and certainly would hold cargo if it was -- if you didn't have many passengers on board.

QUESTION: This is a two-engine prop plane?

HARRISON: It is. Two-engine.

QUESTION: Can you describe that a little bit?

HARRISON: I don't know enough about it to describe it. However, we will have some technical information available, but it's a plane that is in our inventory, and has flown a good bit in the military.

QUESTION: General, have you flown on this plane?

HARRISON: Yes.

QUESTION: You've used it before to go what -- to Washington?

HARRISON: We have -- I don't know that I've ever taken it to Washington, but I have flown on it many times, you know, in this region at least, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you talk about your experiences on that plane?

HARRISON: They've been excellent. It just does exactly what we need, it's good transportation, and we've had no difficulty at all with it.

QUESTION: And I know this is obviously an emotional thing as well.

HARRISON: Sure.

QUESTION: What can you talk about a little bit of the role of the National Guard, and how this affects the whole community?

HARRISON: Well, it does -- you see right here, there are two states involved right away, and of course, every state and three territories and Washington -- the District of Columbia -- have a National Guard, so we are a pretty close community, and there are two states involved here, everyone there the National Guard will feel this.

It's a tragedy of major proportions, and so, it's going to be -- an affect to all of us. However, our job is to accomplish our mission.

QUESTION: You are saying, General, that your job...

HARRISON: Our job is to accomplish the mission, and even though tragedies like this happen, we do have a lot of things that we have to continue to work on, and we will do that.

The community will mourn these -- the military community will mourn these soldiers, and the families are of our main concern. And so, yes, it will affect us, and we will continue our mission, and do what's -- what the public expects of their military.

KELLEY: That's Major General Ronald Harrison. He is the Florida Adjutant General, coming to us courtesy -- this military briefing -- from our affiliate WJXT.

You probably heard the general say, main concern now: family and friends, as 21 people have perished today in that military plane crash in central Georgia -- three crew members, 18 passengers on a mission -- a routine mission, the general said, carrying personnel and cargo from Florida back to Virginia.

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