MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — A man and his adult son were on board a small plane that was destroyed when it collided with an F-16 fighter jet over a rural, sparsely populated area in South Carolina, a coroner said Wednesday.
Authorities found the body of 68-year-old Michael Johnson, the passenger, in the Cooper River, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said. They are still searching the same area for the body of his son, 30-year-old Joseph Johnson, who was piloting the Cessna 150.
Connie Stallworth said Michael Johnson was her brother. His death came just days after the death of another brother, Jim Johnson, and his wife, Beverly, Stallworth said. The couple’s 16-year-old grandson has been charged with second-degree murder in their slayings. Their bodies were found early Saturday morning.
“It’s unbelievable. There just aren’t words to express it. I’m dumbfounded that it happened twice in a few days,” Stallworth said of the deaths of her brothers.
Debris from the collision, which happened near Moncks Corner, was scattered over a broad area about 20 miles northwest of Charleston, but there were no reports of any residents hurt or homes damaged, Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule said Tuesday.
NTSB investigator Dennis Diaz told reporters Wednesday that his first goal is to document the two crash sites, which are about 10 miles apart. He also said the F-16 pilot, who ejected safely, will be interviewed. However, that may not happen for several days.
Investigators will look at flight data recorders and interview witnesses, though that is expected to take months, Diaz said. He would not comment on the direction, speed or altitude at which either aircraft was traveling.
The jet’s pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson from the 55th Fighter Squadron, was taken to Joint Base Charleston’s medical clinic for observation, officials from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter said in a news release.
The jet crashed into woods around the privately owned Lewisfield Plantation, an estate dating to 1750.
“We heard the plane crash,” said Leo Ramsey, who has worked at the plantation for about 30 years. “And then we took off from where I was at, I guess I was about a half-mile from it, when we saw a cloud of smoke.”
Ramsey and two other workers found burning metal, splintered trees and a flaming crater where the jet had crash-landed, he said.
Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, said Maj. Johnson was flying solo, practicing instrument approaches to a military base and was communicating with Charleston air traffic controllers.
Jost said he thought it was overcast at the time of the collision, but he was not aware of any weather-related problems.
It wasn’t clear if a flight plan had been filed, but Berkeley County officials say the civilian pilot had indicated he was traveling to Myrtle Beach.
F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, about 35 miles east of Columbia, routinely fly training missions over eastern South Carolina and the Atlantic.
The Cessna 150 is a two-seat plane that typically weighs about 1,500 pounds when fully fueled. By comparison, an F-16 is about 50 feet long and weighs nearly 10 tons, not counting fuel or weapons. Jost said the F-16 was not carrying any live munitions at the time of the collision.