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McChord remembers 13 lives lost in accident

20th anniversary of C-141 mid-air crash in Montana

62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 01:31PM December 6th, 2012
121130-F-OT160-002

Staff Sgt. Frances Kriss

Honor guard members Airman 1st Class Karl Zaleski (right) and Senior Airman Christopher Allen take part in the ceremony.

Team McChord Airmen, civilians and retirees gathered Nov. 30 to commemorate an accident that killed 13 Airmen when two C-141 Starlifter aircraft collided over north-central Montana.

The ceremony took place at the C-141 memorial site in between the 4th and 8th Airlift Squadron buildings on McChord Field. It began with an invocation provided by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Matthew Franke, 627th Air Base Group chaplain.

“We gather here this morning to remember the 13 McChord Airmen of the 4th, 8th and 36th Airlift squadrons, who died on the night of Nov. 30, 1992, in the skies over northern Montana and to remember and honor those Airmen who have served our nation, who sacrificed so much for our freedoms,” said Franke. “God, we feel a great pain in our hearts for the friends and families of our fellow Airmen, friends for whom this day is a yearly reminder of a great loss, families across America who suffer the void of their missing loved ones. They, too, have borne the heavy burden of freedom.”

Franke then read the names of he fallen; Capt. David Sielewicz (Newport, N.H.), Capt. Jimmy Lee Jenkins (Marietta, Ga.), Capt. Mark Elster (Shelby, Tenn.), Capt. Edward Parent, Jr. (Hamburg, Penn.), Capt. Banks Wilkinson (Forest City, Ark.), Capt. Kevin McGuire (Langhome, Pa.), 1st Lt. Edward Hoyle III (Marshfield, Mass.), Tech. Sgt. Peter Osterfeld (Port Townsend, Wash.), Tech. Sgt. David Young (Carmel, Ind.), Staff Sgt. Terrence Miyoshi (Honolulu, Hawaii), Staff Sgt. Monte Bissett (Lacey, Wash.), Senior Airman Wilbert Brown III (Galveston, Texas) and Airman 1st Class George Anthony Moreland (Lakenheath Village, England).

Following remarks from leadership, McChord Field Honor Guard members presented a wreath for the memorial site and played “Taps.” The ceremony ended with a moment of silence.

Many of the individuals who were stationed at then-McChord Air Force Base came to pay their respect and stayed after the ceremony to reflect on the tragic day.

“It’s still sad,” said Scott Vipond, a captain at the time. “They were all young and I knew all 13 of them. I was really close to Dave and Jimmy Lee, but we were all a close-knit family.”

Some who couldn’t make the ceremony still remember the day and the Airmen who were involved.

“At the (pre-flight) briefing everyone was very relaxed and jovial,” said retired Col. Jeff Cain, who was training that night.

Cain was the operations officer of the 8th AS then and flew one of the four aircraft that participated in the air refueling training that tragic day.

“The formation consisted of aircraft number one and number two from the 36th AS, I flew number three for the 8th AS and number four was manned by the 4th AS,” he said.

Sielewicz, who was the lead, briefed that the formation could rejoin after air fueling was completed by using station-keeping equipment (to electronically identify surrounding aircraft) or visual reference, he said.

“On the AR (air refueling) track it was a rather dark night, no moon, above an overcast, but smooth and clear visibility,” Cain said.

The refueling portion began and after receiving a signal from aircraft number two, Cain proceeded to move forward for his turn.

“As I was about a half-mile from the tanker [air refueling aircraft], a bright light illuminated the cockpit and I thought it was my navigator fooling with his map light,” he continued. “The navigator sat directly behind the AC (aircraft commander) seat, and as I turned to my left to tell him to knock it off, I saw a huge fireball and pieces of burning debris coming out of this explosion.

“I immediately turned around to look at the tanker to make sure I wasn’t going to hit him. Once I got my bearings, I asked number four where he was and if he had a visual on me. He assured me that he did and then we briefly discussed what we thought had happened. After a few interplane radio calls to number one and two, we sadly accepted what happened.”

Looking back after 20 years, Cain said that he will never forget the Airmen involved and the events that happened that tragic night.

“These crew members were professional, enthusiastic and loved to fly,” he said. “Serving their country was an honor; flying the C-141 was a privilege. They had seen the Berlin Wall come down, the people of Kuwait get liberated and were always ready for the next tasking. I have missed them ever since and will always try to make a difference to honor their sacrifice. They may be gone, but they will never be forgotten.”

The C-141s were conducting a refueling training exercise when they collided at approximately 8 p.m. Eleven of the victims were assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron (now part of Pacific Air Forces), one was attached to the 8th AS and one to the 4th AS.