Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I Can Be a Little High Strung

So this meme came over the transom the other day with the caption -

Go home Air Force, you're drunk...

Truth be told, I got slightly irate when I saw that. Pissed off you might say. There is absolutely nothing funny about an aircraft mishap.

However, with that being said, it is kinda funny, no doubt I would've laughed my not insubstantial hindquarters off at this picture and its caption but for a couple of things. After all, the crew survived, "only" one crewmember was injured. I put "only" in quotes because if you're that crewmember, it doesn't seem so trivial. Broken back, permanent disability, having to wear a back brace for the rest of your life, and become a reliable predictor of low pressure moving into the area.

For you see, I knew the guy who was hurt, a senior NCO in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was the flight engineer on that mission. The report on that mission is here.

The aircraft itself, tail number 457, was a NATO bird, one of 18 operated by the NATO E-3A Component out of Geilenkirchen AB, Germany, my old stomping grounds. The mishap occurred at our Forward Operating Base in Greece in 1996, while I was still in Germany. The flight engineer's wife and The Missus Herself were very good friends.

So yeah, that meme hit perhaps a little too close to home to be funny.

Here's footage of the aircraft post-mishap:

Rendering it even less humorous were the memories of the loss of ESSO 77 and her entire crew of four at Geilenkirchen back in January of 1999, my last year there.

I was coming into work, heading for the back gate as we called it. (I suppose to distinguish it from the far fancier "front gate." We only had two.) I always went that way to work as it was quicker. Living where I did it was easier to pass through a short stretch of the Netherlands and then back into Germany at Geilenkirchen's back gate. As I headed up the road into the forest near the back gate, I noticed that the police had the road closed off.

Of course, I handled that badly, until I got to work where I heard that a Washington Air National Guard KC-135 tanker had gone in on landing, the entire crew was presumed dead. Right in that short stretch of forest by the back gate. Yes, I was a bit chagrined to be bitching about changing my routine, given the circumstances and all.

While I don't often reproduce entire articles from other sources, this is a short one and I don't want you to have to chase a link. (Which is here.) I want you to help me remember these guys.

A memorial flagstone sits at the site of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker crash near Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 9, 2014. The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.
(NATO E-3A component Photo By Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Monday marked the 15th anniversary of the loss of a 141st Air Refueling Wing KC-135E Stratotanker that crashed in 1999 at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, Germany. According to news reports the investigation revealed the cause of the crash was the aircraft's pitch up to a near-vertical altitude and subsequent stall during a landing attempt. Four Air National Guard personnel all assigned to the 141st ARW here lost their lives in the incident. They are:

Maj. David W. Fite, 41, the KC-135 pilot from Long Beach, Calif.
Maj. Mattew F. Laiho, 40, the navigator from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Capt. Kenneth F. Thiele, 31, the co-pilot from Poughkeepsie, NY.
Tech. Sgt. Richard G. Visintainer, 48, The aircraft's boom operator from Riverside, Calif.

The day of the crash Fite, Laiho, Thiele, and Visintainer embarked on the last flight of their deployment to Germany before being scheduled to return back to Washington State the following day. They accomplished the mission of re-fueling an NE-3A Sentry aircraft and headed back to Geilenkirchen.

Upon arrival to Geilenkirchen, the weather was fair and the crew was approved for landing. Right before touchdown the crew informed the control tower they were going around again.

"The go around was initiated, but things went wrong," said Brig. Gen. Klaus-Peter Stieglitz the E-3A Component Commander at the time of the accident. "The aircraft went airborne, in an unusual steep angle, lost speed and crashed just outside the boundary of the airfield north of the runway,"

After 15 years, the men and women of the 141st ARW still grieve the loss of the call sign "ESSO 77" crew members.
A memorial stone sits on base at Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 10, 2014 in remembrance of the crash of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker. The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.
(NATO E-3A component Photo By Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)

They were scheduled to fly home the next day.

Maybe I'm a bit high strung, but I just don't find aircraft mishaps funny at all, there are some guys up on the mast head who died operating aircraft. Friends, friends of friends. I'm sorry, some things are just not funny. To me at any rate.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive.

But as I get older, these things bother me more than when I was young and thought myself invincible.

So while that opening meme is sort of funny, it isn't, not really. But I did want all y'all to know the story behind the meme, so to speak.

And yes, ESSO 77, never forget the folks who pay the ultimate price.


  1. Perhaps the older you get the more you realize that there is no guarantee that you'll be here tomorrow. To the crew of "ESSO 77", you are remembered this day. A sobering yet needed post, Sarge.

  2. Over lunch on day Pete Conrad and I got into a discussion about the dangers of flying. He had experienced it all, Naval Aviator, test pilot, and Apollo astronaut. We both had lost friends over the years, he far more than I, and we knew that there will always be the chance of a smoking hole somewhere waiting. But it is part of the job to mourn the dead and then to soldier on. Pete's ironic comment was that it seemed that the only time he ever wore his uniform bridge coat was for funerals, and he had worn it too damned often. No, there isn't anything funny about accidents.

    1. It's all you can do, soldier on. But as I get older, it gets harder.

      Odd that.

  3. That bothers me also. I have nothing but respect for the United States Air Force. In fact, my first interaction with anything American happened after Cyclone Tracy, Christmas 1974 in Darwin Australia. In the following days the powers that be determined that it was best to airlift non-essential folk out of Darwin. My family was transported on a huge transport aircraft flown by USAF. I believe either the aircraft or the 'branch' (showing my ignorance here) was called Wings of Hope. Now, we had been 3- 4 days with no means to wash up; we stood up in the clothing that we had on during the cyclone. In some cases, that was bra and panties, brief nightgowns (it's HOT in the territory) and we were in general, filthy, disheveled and dismayed. We were loaded onto that aircraft and sat in blankets with our knees against our chests in a scenario that could have made us feel like cattle - but it didn't. You see, the crew handed us up the loading ramp like we were queens. It was the first time I was called 'ma'am. We were treated like we were the most precious cargo on the face of the earth. Once we were in the aircraft and ready to go, the crew (dangling from cargo nets) handed us chocolates, oranges and other goodies that we later found out they had brought with their own money. During the flight they were everywhere; handing out blankets (it gets cold in the cargo area) soothing, calming and joking with us the whole way to our destination. Once there, they handed us out of that aircraft like we were royalty. I have often wanted to thank those guys. The impact they had on me was profound. I have often tried to find out more about who they were, to no avail. Wings of Hope......Thank you, whoever you are. And God Bless you all....you made a difference. (and maybe why I ended up marrying and American) You guys sure know how to treat a lady!

    1. What a great story, thanks for sharing that.

  4. here is a link showing one of the aircraft the USA sent to our aid.

    1. According to my sources - "Dec 1974 - Three C-141s flew ten relief missions to Darwin, Australia, to support relief efforts for the city, which had been devastated by Cyclone Tracy." from a book titled "Wings of Hope" by Daniel L. Haulman which has this brief blurb regarding the Darwin cyclone.

      The aircraft shown in the photo at the link (tail number 66-0143) was taken out of service (as eventually were all of the C-141s) in 1993 and delivered to the "Boneyard" (Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona) on 11 May 1993. She was eventually scrapped (my sad face appears here, I've flown on a number of 141s, good birds).

      I did a little reading on Cyclone Tracy, for my American readers, a cyclone is what they call a hurricane over there. A storm over Christmas? 71 dead? The damage to Darwin is horrific.

      I should also note that Darwin was bombed more than once by the Japanese in WWII, the largest raid (242 aircraft) taking place on 189 February 1942.

      You Aussies are a tough lot!

    2. Side note: I always loved the C-141. At my beloved Kwaj, it seemed like they came in every hour on the hour. Loved the sound of their engines. And it totally saddens me that we've scrapped the whole fleet.

    3. Once upon a time I was on a C-141 out of Taegu (IIRC) on the way to Kunsan. Thing could climb like a homesick angel with a light load.

    4. They were four engine fighter jets.


    5. Agreed the C-141s were good birds. The only downside was flying on them put you in the hands of MAC.

  5. Thanks for that, Sarge.
    Far too often we are entertained and amused without remembering someone has suffered under the circumstance that provides the diversion.

    1. Thanks Skip. Precisely my point, I have been guilty of that on occasion.

    2. Bacon mends a multitude of things. Bacon as an award is a thing of great value.


  6. Growing up, it was always good to hear a plane. The sounds become a part of the background, a soothing blast of noise, much like the Elevated is in Chicago for those trapped in that hell.

    And then to un-hear a plane. Walking around, going to the BX or Commissary, or at school and hear "sssssssssssssssssss" and then nothing. Not a problem if not followed by it coming back in a few seconds or so, or not followed by large dull noises and sirens. But if it went longer than a few seconds invariably adult heads would start turning to the sky and scanning.

    I've only been around one time when a plane didn't make noise for far too long, but they finally restarted. That was horrifying. No idea what happened, Dad said it was some sort of flameout and they had to restart (I think, as that was when I was a wee sprout.)

    Never liked plane crashes. Maybe it's due to my fear of fiery death, or because I thought, as a kid, planes (and ships) were alive in one way or another (still do today, really. Call them 'she' and 'her' and enemy ships and planes are 'it's.) Always hated them because of the potential loss of the crew. I remember my dad saying most pilots don't eject because they think they can pull up and fix things until way too late (apparently he got to listen to tower tapes at one time or another, maybe at flight training (juvat, do they do that?))

    Thanks for remembering the fallen, and remembering the saved.

    1. Anything unusual sounding in an aircraft engine makes me hold my breath until normal sounds resume. If I'm on the ground it's concerning, when I'm in the air it's a bit scarier.

  7. Yes, we always need to remember those who have served and those who have paid the ultimate price.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  8. Yeah, it's all fun and games until somebody loses their life. Can't say I've made light of a mishap, but it's easy to be insensitive if you're not careful, which I've probably done, seeing how I have an easy laugh and a slightly off-beat sense of humor.

    1. Yup, I've been there, done that. Sometimes the regret is instantaneous, sometimes it takes a while.

  9. It should be no surprise, but I don't like plane crashes either. Nor do I particularly think they are funny. Lost way more friends than I should have and had enough "near hits" (as WSF likes to call them) to frequently wake up in a cold sweat from dreams of them. So, no, I didn't find that Meme very funny.

    1. No pilot (or aircrew of any ilk) would. Too close to home.

  10. My wife and I were two of the 20,000 spectators.


    The aircraft was one of these---


    Made a low level pass south down the run way to the sound of 'Stars and Stripes Forever', pulled up at the markers and climbed, rolled inverted to make a return pass, and figure 9 into the ground. Last transmission--"I'm too low".

    Yeah, for us, crash memes just aren't that funny.

    1. I've seen a couple, in person. Not a fan at all.

  11. I can think of only one acquaintance of mine lost in an airplane accident. That was AE2 Bill Russey in the tragic mid-air at Moffett between a VP-47 P-3 and NASA Convair 880. I was able to provide some remembrance to his son via the VP-Navy website.


    There, but for the grace of God, go I.

    There needs to be more remembrance of all who are lost, not just on special holidays.

    1. What a horrible accident!

      I'm pretty sure the crowd which hangs out here remembers the fallen, every day.

      I know I do.

  12. 12/21/67 Stapleton Airport, Denver, saw a Frontier DC-3 stall and start to spin then hit just North of I-70. Both pilots died. They took off with an elevator control lock (batten) on. The tower had the fire trucks rolling before the stall; it was that obvious the plane was in trouble. Saw one firetruck go off the taxiway down the bank and into the flaming wreck shooting foam. Bravest thing I've ever seen.

    Grim days followed as I knew some of the family members of the dead pilots. Also had watched the plane being improperly loaded next door to where I worked (TWA). Such a needless and preventable mess.


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