Where was Gov. Sanford? Buenos Aires. - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Where was Gov. Sanford? Buenos Aires.

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What's believed to be the black SUV the governor allegedly took off in was found in the parking lot of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. What's believed to be the black SUV the governor allegedly took off in was found in the parking lot of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Shorts, a gym bag and a shoe were left on the passenger seat. Shorts, a gym bag and a shoe were left on the passenger seat.
The SUV also has a parking pass for the school Sanford's children attend. The SUV also has a parking pass for the school Sanford's children attend.
The governor's empty parking spot at the State House South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford The governor's empty parking spot at the State House South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is now saying he never hiked the Appalachian Trail, according to a South Carolina newspaper. He was in Argentina.

The State newspaper in Columbia reported Wednesday morning that Sanford arrived at the Hartsville-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta after a seven-day visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sanford told the newspaper he had not been hiking in the Appalachian Trail as had been previously reported by his spokesman, Joel Sawyer.

Sanford scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. Wednesday at his office in Columbia, just hours after he told The State he had traveled to Argentina - contradicting his staff's explanations that he had been hiking the Appalachian Trail since last Thursday. www.WMBFNews.com will carry the press confrence LIVE ONLINE.

A media flurry began Monday when Sanford's wife told The Associated Press Monday she didn't know where the two-term Republican chief executive had been and hadn't spoken with him for several days. Sanford's staff declined to disclose his whereabouts until late Monday night, when they said he was in the Appalachians.

Tuesday morning, Sanford officials said the governor would cut his trip short to return to office due to the media attention the hike had received.

"Governor Sanford called to check in with his chief of staff this morning," Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Tuesday in a statement. "It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten."

Sanford told The State on Wednesday he had planned to hike, but changed his mind at the last minute to go to South America after a difficult legislative session and bout over federal stimulus money.

According to the newspaper, Sanford would not give any further details on his trip other than he was alone and drove along the coast.

Raycom sister station WIS-TV reported the state-issued SUV that the governor allegedly took off in was found in the parking lot of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport late Tuesday, several media reports state.

Sawyer said he is not ready to release a statement on these latest developments.

SLED officials told WIS that they cannot confirm that the vehicle belongs to SLED or if it was the one the governor was using.

While this story has been used as fodder for some, it was pretty serious for others, including Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell who responded by proposing new legislation, one bill to further define part of the state constitution that sets out who's in charge in the event of the governor's "temporary absence" from the state, and another that would mandate security coverage for both the governor and lieutenant governor.

That was after it became clear Sanford had ditched his security detail before heading out of the state.

Some of the criticism aimed at the governor suggests he left without telling enough people where he was going. Lt. Gov. Andrew Bauer said he'd been rebuffed by the governor's staff when he tried to find out where Sanford was and had not been put in charge in his absence.

"I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts," Bauer said.

Bauer appeared on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show and reiterated that he's still largely in the dark about Sanford's whereabouts.

"A lot of what I know I've gained has been through the news media," said Bauer.

Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said the governor was "irresponsible" for being inaccessible.

"I don't begrudge the governor's vacation time," Fowler said Tuesday morning. "But they need to make certain their duties are taken care of while they're gone."

Sanford is known for taking walks and runs without security, but flight logs show he seldom leaves the state without it. His security team wouldn't comment. And Sanford's office normally makes no secret of time he spends on vacation or out of state.

Sen. Jake Knotts, a Lexington Republican and a persistent Sanford critic, said the state needs to know where its governor is.

"The way things are in the world today and homeland security, we need the governor to be fingertips away," Knotts said.

Sanford's supporters are now lobbing accusations that this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom says the governor's critics were making a mountain out of a molehill.

Sen. Greg Ryberg also says the uproar has been generated by Sanford's political enemies and that his staff was able to find him on a trade mission in Estonia in 2007 to notify him of the deadly Sofa Superstore fire.

Bob McAlister, former chief of staff for Gov. Carroll Campbell, says Sanford has the right to do what he pleases.

"He's got a perfect right to take a vacation, it's none of the media's business. He has a perfect right to ditch his SLED detail for a while, that's none of the media's business," McAlister explained. "To me it all boils down to 'Did anybody in an official capacity know where he was and how he could be reached?' I'm not sure that question has been answered. I imagine he'll address that when he gets back to Columbia."

Residents who talked with WMBF News say it's understandable that even the governor needs a break from the pressures of his job, but have one piece of advice for his next trip away from the statehouse - tell somebody.

"Everybody's entitled to a vacation, but when you're running the state, his people need to know where he is," said Julia Saverance. "You are still a leader and still have to be accessible, certainly in the event there are important decisions you have to make."

Read more comments on the governor's trip here.

©2009 WMBF News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. WIS-TV and The Associate Press contributed to this report.

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