Nine airmen from Puerto Rico lost their lives when their badly outdated plane crashed shortly after take off. The WC-130 plane, from the 156th Airlift Wing of the Puerto Rico National Guard, had been used in rescue operations after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
A memorial service for the airmen was held on Saturday in Port Wentworth, Georgia.
The plane was 40 years old. It was being flown from Georgia to Arizona, where it would have been retired.
The crew had a combined total of 170 years of experience, according to The Washington Post. It is not yet known why a plane with an experienced crew failed just minutes off the runway. The plane had received maintenance in Georgia.
However, Army Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, was quoted as saying that “The planes that we have in Puerto Rico — it’s not news today that they are the oldest planes on inventory.” Rivera also said that the Puerto Rico National Guard has trouble getting spare parts.
A similar event in 2002 might have resulted from the failure of the plane’s safety system.
This model of plane is known as a workhorse, but was never intended to remain in service this long. Crashes of aged airplanes have increased since budget cuts were made in training and maintenance. As an unincorporated territory, Puerto Rico is often less well-funded than States. Puerto Rico has no voting members in Congress and the Island’s residents cannot vote in presidential elections. Congress is not required to provide equal funding to territories.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon addressed Congress on May 8, asking for recognition of the National Guardsmen’s service and saying, “As we mourn our heroes, let us pledge to honor their sacrifice by giving their comrades in arms worthy missions to continue, and the proper resources and support to do so.”