Air Commandos remember STRAY 59

  • Published
  • By Tech.Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
No matter how painful it is to remember or how easy it is to forget, one special operations squadron makes it a priority each year to remember its heritage and to honor those before its members now who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

As an annual salute to their fallen comrades, a crew from the 1st Special Operations Squadron returned to the crash site of STRAY 59 Feb. 26 to drop a wreath in honor of the eight crew members and 15 passengers who were killed 32 years ago off the coast of the Philippines.

"It's important to look toward your heritage," said Capt. David Monico, 1st SOS navigator. "We look toward the future a lot in the Air Force, but it is also important to go backward and see the people who have come and to honor those who have given their lives for the cause."

On Feb. 26, 1981, after completing 12 missions during a 16-day exercise hosted by the U.S. Navy SEALS, the crew of an MC-130E with the call sign STRAY 59 began its final mission to extract a joint multinational special forces team from Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines.

With no indication of problems with the aircraft, the STRAY 59 crew made a call to the ground radio station to report normal operations six minutes into the flight. Minutes later, a local fisherman saw the 1st SOS Combat Talon I hit the water and explode. The crash left one survivor, the electronic warfare officer, who was thrown from the aircraft and rescued by a fisherman.

The aircraft sank 250 feet shortly after hitting the water, leaving little physical evidence for an investigation.

The crash that took 23 lives may have left the small Talon community with unanswered questions of how the accident happened, but there is no question concerning why STRAY 59 will forever hold an important place in 1st SOS history.

"It's a dangerous business that we work in," said Staff Sgt. Jerred Sevold, 1st SOS loadmaster. "To be a participant in a ceremony like this just reminds me of the danger of our job and what it is that we are ultimately here to do."

The 1st SOS members lost Feb. 26, 1981, during the STRAY 59 crash were Maj. James Kirk, aircraft commander; Capt. Norman Martel, pilot; Capt. Thomas Patterson, navigator; Capt. Gregory Peppers, navigator; Tech. Sgt. Stephen Blyler, radio operator; Tech. Sgt. Barry Chumbley, loadmaster; Tech. Sgt. Gary Logan, loadmaster; and Staff Sgt. John Felton, flight engineer.

The 15 passengers lost were:
From the U.S. Air Force
Senior Airman David Bingaman, Senior Airman Glenn Bloomer, Senior Airman James Bach and Airman First Class Kyle Wells.

From the U.S. Army
Sgt. 1st Class Danny Janecki, Staff Sgt. Patrick Estel, Staff Sgt. Davis Hagen and Sgt. Bryan Broadwater.

From the Philippine Navy
Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class Rodrigo Penol and Seaman Manuel Dumo.

From the Australian Army
Sgt. Ewen Miller, Sgt. Murray Tonkin and Signalman Gregory Fry.

From the New Zealand Army
Warrant Officer 2nd Class Dave Heywood and Sgt. Dennis Terry.