Drone crash at Tyndall; U.S. 98 to be closed until mid-day Thursday
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 09:53 AM.
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE — A 30,000 pound QF-4 drone crashed at the end of a runway during take-off at Wednesday morning.
To compound the problem, Air Force officials, as of Wednesday afternoon, were searching for an explosive device or “charge” used to destroy drones if they veer off course or out of control during missions. Air Force officials also said the device has a battery inside that will run down, which usually takes about 24 hours.
The incident prompted Air Force officials to close U.S. 98. It is expected to remain closed until Thursday afternoon.
The crash happened as a second drone was already in the air. Tyndall AFB officials said they blew up the second drone with a missile over the Gulf, as planned.
On Wednesday morning, cars were lined up along U.S. 98 near the base.
“We’re in the middle of a crisis,” said Herman Bell chief of Tyndall’s 325th Fighter Wing public affairs, at about 9:25 a.m. Wednesday morning.
On U.S. 98, which goes through Tyndall AFB, cars were lined up for miles as Air Force security blocked off traffic.
At 12:30 p.m., Mission Support Commander William Grund held a press conference to explain the status regarding the closure of Highway 98.
“The (drone) was carrying a small self destruct charge, which is normally used to destroy the drone if it ventures off course,” said Grund, just after 12:30 p.m. “Because of the fire and smoke surround the plane (drone) we do not know if the charge has detonated or is still live. Until the fire goes out and we can ascertain the status of the device we cannot send in out first responders.”
Grund said the Air Force has cordoned off a 4,000 foot radius around the area until the fire goes out sometime on Thursday.
Grund said he expect to reopen Highway 98 Thursday afternoon.
The incident is the second in a week’s time.
On July 11, a drone aircraft out of Tyndall had to be destroyed, causing it to plunge into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office said.
GCSO Lt. Paul Beasley said a 911 dispatcher received a call about 10:30 a.m. that a flaming object had plunged into the water just offshore.
“They saw a big flash of fire that landed in the Gulf,” Beasley said.
At the time of that crash, Bell said the drone had gone “haywire” the controllers were forced to destroy the craft.
At the time of the closing on Wednesday, hundreds of cars were backed up along either side of the highway.
Grund said the highway is routinely closed temporarily when drones are launched and return to the air base.
Witnesses at the scene reported black smoke rising from the base.
“They (Air Force security) stops us on Highway 98 by the fire station when they launch the drones,” said Dylan Dunaway, who commutes from Port St. Joe to Panama City to attend Gulf Coast State College.
“We were stopped when we saw a plume of black smoke getting bigger and bigger coming from the air field. The fire trucks started moving and we knew something was wrong,” Dunaway said.
According to Tyndall officials, the U.S. 98 closure is being done strictly as a precautionary measure due to fires resulting from the crash and a small self-destruct charge carried on board the drone.
Motorist traveling between Panama City and Mexico Beach or Port St. Joe should use State 22 east to State 71 south to Port St. Joe.
The drones are assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group.
The QF-4 is referred to as a “reusable drone,” according to the U.S. Air Force’s official website. The drone is 63 feet long, rising to 16 feet high and officially weights in at 30,328 pounds.
An earlier version of this story is posted below:
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE – An unmanned Air Force QF-4 drone, assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, crashed on the drone runway during take-off at 8:25 a.m. today, officials wrote in a news release.
No personnel were injured during the incident.
Highway 98 from Tyndall Air Force Base to Mexico Beach has been closed and is expected to remain closed until mid-day Thursday, according to Tyndall officials.
"This closure is being done strictly as a precautionary measure due to fires resulting from the crash and a small self-destruct charge carried on board the drone," the news release states. "The status of this device is unknown however, it is powered by a short-life battery which will be fully depleted in 24 hours."
The charge is used to destroy the drone if it leaves its pre-approved flight plan, officials added.
Motorist traveling from Panama City to Mexico Beach, should use State 22 east to State 71 south, and from Mexico Beach to Panama City State 71 north to State 22 west.
More details are coming officials said.
Another drone could be seen flying over the base this morning after the crash. Tyndall officials confirmed to The News Herald that drone was destroyed over the Gulf of Mexico in a planned event. The training excercise ended when a fighter pilot shot a missile at it and destroyed it, officials said. That is what the drone is for and it was destroyed correctly, officials said.
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