May 15, 2005 -An undetermined number of V.I. guardsmen were injured late Sunday afternoon when the military aircraft they were on board experienced severe turbulence.
The soldiers, all from St. Thomas, were returning from what V.I. National Guard official said was a "routine training mission in Florida."
Word reached the territory around 5 p.m. Sunday that several soldiers had been injured when the aircraft, a KC-135, dropped some 400 feet during the flight from Florida to St. Thomas.
After the pilot regained control of the aircraft, an emergency landing was made in the Turks and Caicos. Specific information about the extent of the injuries and the number of guardsmen injured was hard to come by Sunday night.
VING Public Affairs Officer Karen Williams would only say that "several soldiers" were injured and that the Guard was still receiving information about their condition. WVWI Radio One (AM 1000), in a special broadcast report, quoted unnamed sources as saying four to six were injured and at least two suffered extensive injury though none were life-threatening.
Late Sunday night, a C-130 aircraft was deployed from Puerto Rico to transport the injured back to St. Thomas with an estimated arrival time at Cyril E. King Airport of 2 a.m. Monday. A VING medical team was en route to the Turks and Caicos from St. Croix but was diverted to San Juan to join the C-130 mission in returning the soldiers home.
Brig. Gen. Eddy Charles said Sunday night, "We've launched our own air asset, an Army Aviation C-23 Sherpa aircraft with a medical team, to make a rendezvous with the C-130 for a rapid response to the Turks and Caicos Islands."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, commander-in-chief of the V.I. National Guard, was made aware of the situation. Both Turnbull and Charles were on St. Croix Sunday night monitoring developments, but are expected to be on St. Thomas early Monday morning in time for the arrival of the injured guardsmen.
Other reports said that the military grounded the KC-135 aircraft when it landed in the Turks and Caicos Islands. A U.S. Air Force Web site described the mission of the KC-135 as primarily aerial refueling and airlift. Through the years, the KC-135 has been altered to do other jobs ranging from flying command post missions to reconnaissance. The four-engine aircraft is produced by The Boeing Company and over the next few years, the aircraft will undergo upgrades to expand its capabilities and improve its overall reliability. Late Sunday, sources said that two of the more seriously injured were taken to a clinic just after the emergency landing. A three-sentence statement from the VING said that "all efforts were being made to return the soldiers to the Virgin Islands at this time." The guardsmen had been in Florida since last week for weapons qualifications at Camp Blanding.
Williams described the training as a yearly requirement for the troops.
On St. Thomas, a command post was established at the King airport with representatives on hand from VITEMA, the National Guard, Emergency Medical Services, St. Thomas Rescue, a triage response unit from the VING, a contingent of family support members and other responders.
At the Roy L. Schneider Hospital plans were being readied for the arrival of the injured guardsmen. Schneider Regional Chief Operating Officer Amos Carty Jr. said Sunday night that medical staff was placed on a stand-by alert in the event the hospital resources will be called on to render medical care. "We are in a state of readiness" Carty said Sunday, adding that hospital administrators in all areas were briefed on the incident. Carty said that the administrators of the Juan F. Luis Hospital were also notified of the incident and the potential that one or two of the victims would be taken there for specialized treatment.
V.I. National Guard and Schneider Regional Medical Center have called a news conference for 11 a.m. Monday morning to update the public on the incident and the status of the injured guardsmen.
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