1st SOS perform Stray 59 memorial flight

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
  • 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
A 1st Special Operations Squadron crew conducted their 34th annual memorial flight Feb. 26 off the coast of the Philippines to pay tribute to the crew of Stray 59.

Stray 59 was the call sign of an MC-130E from the 1st SOS that crashed Feb. 26, 1981 during an exercise killing eight of the nine crew members and 15 passengers. The memorial flight has been flown by the 1st SOS every year since the crash.

“Today's sortie presented a great opportunity for today's 1st SOS members to pay tribute to those who preceded them and whose sacrifices have tangibly bettered our unit and how we operate,” said Lt. Col. Shane Vesely, 1st SOS commander. “Tradition is important in our unit; it provides us with a foundation from which to draw strength and improve.”

This year, three Airmen from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron joined the Talon II crew with honor those who died in the crash, which included two combat controllers.

In February 1981, crews from the 1st SOS were responsible for the specialized airlift needed to support Special Warfare Exercise '81, an annual joint exercise in the Philippines hosted by the U.S. Navy Seals. The squadron established a base of operations at Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines, and crews flew day and night missions involving low-level, psychological operations, and infiltration and exfiltration of forces.

Maj. James M. Kirk commanded STRAY 59 and a crew from the 1 SOS that was responsible for a total of 12 missions during the 16-day exercise. STRAY 59 was scheduled to be his crew's final mission during the Specwarex '81.

The morning of Feb. 26, 1981, 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 a prior day mission. 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. STRAY 59 executed a tactical departure two minutes later. The crew made their operational normal call to a ground radio station six minutes into their low level flight. The second, and last, transmission from STRAY 59 was received at 5:21 a.m.; there had been no indication from the crew of a flight issue.

Minutes later, a local fisherman watched the aircraft explode upon impact with the water. Eight crewmembers and 15 special operators died. 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.

“Our Stray Goose crew members are driven to perform to the highest task and standard to execute those missions others can't or won't do and to ensure that they honor the lessons taught through others' sacrifices,” Vesely said. “On a beautiful day in the Philippines, today's memorial flight was proudly executed to the highest standard, further underscoring that sentiment.”

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.