Air Force investigators are looking for two key pieces of wreckage from a midair collision over Georgia last month.
On June 7, two F-16s from the South Carolina Air National Guard collided a few miles southeast of Louisville in east Georgia. About a week later, Robins got the call to search for the debris because it is the closest Air Force base, said Lt. Col. James Rumbley, deputy commander of the 78th Mission Support Group.
The pilots from the 169th Fighter Wing ejected safely from the single-seat jets. The bulk of the wreckage was found, but residents in the area are asked to be on the lookout for remnants of an ejection seat and canopy, according to a statement from Robins Air Force Base.
More than 100 airmen from Robins hiked through the woods and farm fields of Jefferson County, just east of Washington County, in June in search of crash debris.
At one point about 150 airmen from Robins were searching an 8,000-acre area, or 12.5 square miles. That’s about the entire land area of Robins.
Most of it was woods, but some of it was farmland and there was also some swamp.
“The terrain was very challenging,” Rumbley said. “Most of the time we were going through some very thick areas.”
The upside of that — and it’s a big one — is that due to the remote area, no debris fell on any buildings and no one was hurt, Rumbley said.
Airmen from units across the base volunteered for the job. Experts in charge of the crash investigation estimated that they recovered about 96 percent of the two jets.
Most of the debris was in the two areas where each jet hit the ground, but because it was a mid-air collision, parts were recovered from well beyond the two main sites.
One piece that was never found was an ejection seat. A pilot ejects with the seat attached, but in the descent it separates from the pilot. Despite a diligent search of the area where that pilot landed, the seat was never found.
The other seat was found easily because it nearly landed on a highway. The airmen used GPS to map where each piece of the plane was found. Experts were also called to confirm that anything found was a plane part and not something else.
Rumbley said there were lakes and swampland in the area where the pilot with the missing seat landed, so it could be that the seat and canopy are underwater. It’s possible someone picked up the items before searchers got there.
The search ended Friday. Robins officials are asking that anyone who finds anything that could be from the planes to leave it alone and immediately call 911 and describe the items and location.
Most of the airmen stayed in hotels in Louisville and the surrounding area. Rumbley said the community was very welcoming, and many airmen told stories of locals buying their lunch.
“I think it went about as good as we could have hoped,” he said. “Our folks were very motivated and they were hard working. I couldn’t have been prouder of the joint effort that we got.”