BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The Berkeley County coroner identified the victims killed in Tuesday's midair collision between an F-16 and a Cessna C-150.
Michael Johnson, 68, and his son, Joseph Johnson, 30, were killed in the crash, according to Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury. The two were father and son and Joseph was piloting the plane at the time of the crash, he said.
Michael's remains were recovered by a Department of Natural Resources boat Wednesday morning, Salisbury said. The search continues for Joseph's remains, he said.
An NTSB investigator said the Johnsons had taken off from the Berkeley County Airport just minutes before the crash happened for a short day trip to Myrtle Beach and had planned to return home the same day.
The crash happened near Old Highway 52 in Moncks Corner at approximately 11:02 a.m. and witnesses reported the F-16 hit the Cessna "broadside," Salisbury said.
The Air Force identified Maj. Aaron Johnson, who is stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, as the pilot of the F-16. Johnson safely ejected from the jet and was rescued following the crash 11 miles north of Charleston and was rescued, according to Berkeley County Rescue Squad officials.
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Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, said Johnson is a "highly-experienced pilot" who was on a single-ship mission involving instrument training.
"Our pilots are well trained to fly the approaches in and out of there and all the facts at this point indicate he was talking to air traffic control when the accident happened," Jost said.
Johnson was taken to Joint Base Charleston for health evaluations, Jost said, and Johnson was expected to be back at Shaw by Tuesday evening.
"Our hearts are with the family of the crew of the civilian plane," Jost said, adding that Shaw would do everything possible to determine what caused the crash and support the safety investigation.
NTSB Air Safety Investigator Dennis Diaz says the current focus of the investigation is to document "perishable" information, which he described as information that once moved or disturbed, doesn't exist anymore. Diaz said the focus Wednesday would be at the crash site of the Cessna, and that by Thursday, they would likely move to the crash site of the F-16.
Once the on-scene process investigation is complete, investigators will work on gathering archived information, which would include any recorded data on either aircraft. Diaz said the Cessna is not likely to have contained a flight data recording device, or "black box," but said it is possible some instruments or devices from the plane could contain valuable information.
The F-16 was equipped with flight data recording devices, Diaz said, and the NTSB will work with the Air Force to process that data.
The investigation would also include a review witness testimony they are receiving, as well as an interview of the surviving pilot and archived air traffic control radar data and voice communications, as well as weather data at the time of the crash. The history of the pilots' training and maintenance and manufacturing records of both planes will also be reviewed, he said.
Reports are expected to be released over the next nine months, but it all depends on the information and evidence that is collected.
"We don't have a set timeline, rather we allow the factual evidence to drive the timeline of the investigation," Diaz said. "So information may come out in that factual report sooner or later than that."
Anyone who finds debris from the crash should call 911 immediately so the debris can be collected. The NTSB asks anyone who witnessed the crash to contact the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office or send an email describing what they saw in detail to email@example.com.
Late Tuesday afternoon Salisbury described the search effort as a "recovery mission," stressing the main goal had shifted to recovering the remains of the two people believed to have been aboard the Cessna and bring them home to their families. During Tuesday's briefing, Salisbury said he had received word that a wallet had been discovered in the crash area. He confirmed Wednesday morning that wallet belonged to Joseph Johnson.
Salisbury said the fuselage of the Cessna has been located and debris area is 7.3 miles wide and scattered across a rice field. The recovery operation involves boats, divers and sonar, Salisbury said. A witness said the crash was in a rice field about 100 feet from land, very close to the historic Lewisfield plantation home. Both Medway and Lewisfield Plantations are off Highway 52.
Law enforcement officers blocked off roads near O.T. Wallace Boulevard and say additional road closures may occur as additional debris is located. Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis asked for patience for those who might encounter road closures. Lewis said area residents are being allowed in, but everyone else should avoid the area for now.
Anyone who needs to file a claim for property damage resulting from falling debris should contact the Joint Base Charleston Legal Office at (843) 963-5567.