Air Commandos honor fallen comrades with memorial flight

  • Published
  • By James D'Angina
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
A Combat Talon II crew from the 1st Special Operations Squadron departed from Kadena Air Base Feb. 26 on a unique mission to commemorate their fallen brethren who were lost 29 years ago when a 1st SOS MC-130E, call sign STRAY 59, crashed during an exercise killing eight of nine crew members and 15 special operators that were passengers.

The crew of GOOSE 99 flew more than three hours to reach the exact coordinates of the crash site to release a ceremonial wreath in commemoration of the sacrifice made by the men of STRAY 59 Feb. 26, 1981. The memorial flight has been flown every year since the tragic accident and the crew members of GOOSE 99 are grateful to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

"It's a privilege to be part of such a meaningful flight," said Capt. Buck Hodgkinson, the aircraft commander for the memorial flight. "I take great pride in honoring the memory of those who created the heritage of the 1st Special Operations Squadron."

"I am incredibly proud to be a part of this memorial flight," said Master Sgt. Erik Thompson, the flight engineer for GOOSE 99. "It's a great honor for our unit to continue this tradition."

During February 1981, crews from the 1st SOS participated in Special Warfare Exercise 81, an annual joint exercise in the Philippines hosted by the U.S. Navy SEALS. The 1st SOS MC-130E crews were responsible for airlift during the combined exercise. The squadron established an Air Force Special Operations Base at Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines; and crews flew both day and night missions involving low-level, psychological operations, infiltration and exfiltration of forces.

One crew from the 1st SOS was commanded by Maj. James M. Kirk, who was responsible for a total of 12 missions during the three 16 day exercise. Their twelfth and final mission during the Specwarex 81 was scheduled for Feb. 26. The crew's takeoff time for the mission was slipped from 1:05 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. due to an extended crew day on their mission a day before.

The crew, call sign STRAY 59, executed a non-tactical departure from Cubi Point at 4:28 a.m. and executed a tactical landing back at Cubi Point at 5:06 a.m. to quickly load 15 personnel participating in the exercise. STRAY59 executed a tactical departure two minutes later. The crew made their operational normal call six minutes into their low-level flight with a ground radio station. The second, and last, transmission from STRAY59 was received at 5:21 a.m.; and there had been no indication from the crew to indicate a problem with their aircraft.

Minutes later, a local fisherman watched the aircraft impact the water and explode. Eight crewmembers and 15 special operators were killed instantly. One crew member from the 1st SOS, the electronic warfare officer, was thrown from the wreckage and rescued by a local fisherman.

The investigation conducted on STRAY 59 could not pinpoint the exact cause of the accident. The lack of physical evidence following the crash hindered the investigation. Minutes after impacting the ocean the wreckage sank to a depth of 240 feet.

The 1st Special Operations Squadron members lost Feb. 26, 1981, during the STRAY 59 crash are 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.