552nd ACW honors Yukla fallen in ceremony

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff

Members of the 552nd Air Control Wing, Airborne Early Warning Association, and surviving family members gathered for a solemn memorial ceremony September 22, 2023 at Tinker Air Force Base to honor the 24 Canadian and U.S. Airmen lost in one of the deadliest aircraft accidents in U.S. Air Force history.

It has been 28 years since crew members assigned to the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron, call sign “Yukla-27,” prepared for a routine surveillance training sortie out of Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

As the aircraft lifted off, a flock of Canadian geese took flight from the airfield and flew directly into the path of the aircraft.

According to cockpit recordings, Copilot Capt. Bradley W. Paakola declared an emergency at 7:46 a.m., and seconds later, aircraft commander Capt. Glenn L. Rogers Jr. reported they were going to crash.

At 7:47 a.m. Sept. 22, 1995, only 42 seconds in the air, Yukla-27 tragically crashed 3,500 yards northeast of the airfield, killing everyone on board.

“We lost our comrades in arms that day,” said Larry Bunting, with 552 ACW E-3 Requirements office, and a member of the Airborne Early Warning Association. “We try to do a small memorial ceremony every year to honor their memory, bravery and their ultimate pursuit of freedom and their dedication to the defense of this country. We will never forget them.”

The need for Bird Air Strike Hazard teams came about following the Yukla-27 crash. BASH teams preserve war fighting capabilities through the reduction of wildlife hazards to aircraft operations, but more importantly, help to protect the lives of Airmen.

Pilot and crew training is essential to maintaining operation readiness. The 552 ACW is holding a safety day on Sept. 22 to go over lessons learned from that fateful day.

The short ceremony featured a prayer, the playing of “Taps,” and the reading of the crew names.

The Lost but not Forgotten
Lt Col Richard G. Leary, 41, Navigator
Maj Richard P. Stewart II, 40, Mission Crew Commander
Maj Marlon R. Thomas, 39, Mission Crew Commander
Maj Steven A. Tuttle, 40, Airborne Surveillance Officer
Capt Robert J. Long, 27, Senior Director
Capt Bradley W. Paakola, 27, Co-Pilot
Capt Glen L. Rogers, 28, Pilot
1st Lt Carlos A. Arriaga, 25, Weapons Director
MSgt Stephen C. O’Connell, 32, Advanced Air Surveillance Technician
TSgt Mark A. Bramer, 34, Flight Engineer
TSgt Mark A. Collins, 30, Communications Systems Operator
TSgt Bart L. Holmes, 37, Flight Engineer
TSgt Ernest R. Parrish, 32, Intelligence Specialist
TSgt Charles D. Sweet, Jr., 33, Airborne Radar Technician
TSgt Timothy B. Thomas, 33, Computer Display Maintenance Technician
TSgt Brian K. Van Leer, 34, Advanced Air Surveillance Technician
Sgt David L. Pitcher, 35, Battle Director Technician
MCpl Jean-Pierre J. Legault, 35, Communications Technician
SSgt Scott A. Bresson, 32, Airborne Radar Technician
SSgt Raymond O. Spencer Jr., 26, Airborne Surveillance Technician
SrA Lawrence E. DeFrancesco, 24, Communications Systems Operator
SrA Darien F. Watson, 20, Airborne Surveillance Technician
SrA Joshua N. Weter, 21, Computer Display Maintenance Technician
Amn Jeshua C. Smith, 20, Airborne Surveillance Technician