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Nine Puerto Rico Air National Guardsmen were killed Wednesday when the C-130 they were flying into retirement crashed onto a Georgia highway, according to authorities.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the latest C-130 to be produced was the C-130J which entered inventory in February 1999.

An Air National Guard cargo plane crashed near Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday morning.

A photo tweeted by the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association shows the tail end of a plane and a field of flames and black smoke as an ambulance stands nearby.

The nine victims of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard were on their way to Tuscon, Arizona, where the plane would have been retired.

Military officials said the C-130 and its variants historically have good safety records and a crash is considered a rare occurrence.

The Puerto Rico Air National Guard WC-130 was carrying nine crew members when it crashed, the Guard said in a statement.

"Any information about what caused this or any facts about the aircraft will come out in the investigation", he said.

"That plane really flipped over on its back, slowly, like it was in slow motion", Garrett said.

The crash site is a busy road near Savannah's airport, Kiley reports. WC-130s, known as Hurricane Hunters, are turbo-prop C-130 cargo aircraft modified with specialized equipment for weather reconnaissance missions.

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"Had this gone down a couple hundred feet north or south, it might have hit traffic or any of these big warehouses we have around here or any of these businesses or gas stations", Libby said.

Effingham County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Gena Bilbo said "it is an absolute miracle" that no vehicles on the road were involved in the crash.

Col. Pete Boone of the Georgia Air National Guard told reporters Thursday that investigators will "use every resource at our disposal to identify a cause".

The C-130 had been in Georgia for planned maintenance and was thought to have been in good mechanical condition, he added. "We heard a boom of the crash and then a louder boom of the explosion", she said.

Rivera says the US territory's planes are the oldest on inventory among National Guard aircraft nationwide.

According to the Air National Guard, a board of officers will investigate the accident.

The US territory's Governor Ricardo Rossello expressed his sadness, tweeting that "our prayers are with the families of the Puerto Rican crew".

Abby Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency, said that the aircraft had gone down on the outskirts of Savannah, about 175 miles (280 km) southeast of Atlanta.

As reported, the aircraft crashed near 11:30 a. m. today shortly after taking off from Savannah Airport in the course of a routine mission to Arizona.