KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Time may pass, but the legacy of the crew and passengers of Stray 59 will never fade. Thirty five years later, the 1st Special Operations Squadron continues to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
A 1st SOS crew conducted their 35th 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 35 years ago.
“This year marks 35 years since we lost the fine operators aboard Stray 59,” said Lt. Col. Shane Vesely, 1st Special Operations Squadron commander. “The legacy left behind by the crew and passengers of Stray 59 will continue to impact who we are and how we operate as a unit. I am humbled to be a part of the Stray Goose community; a community that always comes through even when the potential costs are very, very high.” Four Airmen from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron also joined the Talon II crew to 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.
During the 16-day exercise, the crew of Stray 59 conducted 12 missions. The Feb. 16 mission was scheduled to be the crew's final mission during the Specwarex '81.
On the morning of Feb. 26, 1981, the crew of STRAY 59 departed without issue from Cubi Point, Philippines, at 4:28 a.m. before returning at 5:06 a.m. to quickly load 15 passengers participating in the exercise. STRAY 59 then departed two minutes later. All normal checks and calls were conducts within the first six minutes of the 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 any issues.
Shortly after, 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 wreckage from the crash sank 240 feet within minutes. Due to lack of physical evidence from the crash, investigators did not determine the cause of the crash.
“It’s an absolute honor to be a part of this mission,” said Maj. Casey Cunningham, 1st Special Operations Squadron. “I personally have been a part of all three Talon operational units. What I have come to recognize is that each one has a special history and being a part of that unit, you realize that that history becomes a part of you just as much as you become a part of it.”
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 and the 320th STS
Senior Airman James Bach, Senior Airman David Bingaman
From the U.S. Air Force
Senior Airman Glenn Bloomer, 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.