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'Yukla two-seven' Airmen remembered on 20th anniversary of crash

During a Sept. 22 ceremony, Col. David Gaedecke, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, receives a wreath from a member of Tinker’s Honor Guard to place at the foot of the Yukla 27 Memorial. Assisting with the wreath laying are, from left, retired Master Sgt. Ken Lybolt, who was the crew chief for the Yukla; retired Col. Wylie Koiner, former 552nd ACW commander; and Lt. Col. Don “Boc” Saunders, Canadian Detachment commander. The ceremony marked the 20th anniversary of “Yukla two-seven” crashing 42 seconds after takeoff at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, killing all 24 crew members onboard. (Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released)

During a Sept. 22 ceremony, Col. David Gaedecke, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, receives a wreath from a member of Tinker’s Honor Guard to place at the foot of the Yukla 27 Memorial. Assisting with the wreath laying are, from left, retired Master Sgt. Ken Lybolt, who was the crew chief for the Yukla; retired Col. Wylie Koiner, former 552nd ACW commander; and Lt. Col. Don “Boc” Saunders, Canadian Detachment commander. The ceremony marked the 20th anniversary of “Yukla two-seven” crashing 42 seconds after takeoff at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, killing all 24 crew members onboard. (Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The 24 U.S. and Canadian Airmen who lost their lives two decades ago did not die in vain and honorably inspire members of "America's Wing" today,  the 552nd Air Control Wing commander said Tuesday.

"They gave their lives for us," Col. David Gaedecke said to approximately 450 people gathered for the 20th anniversary of the E-3 Sentry crash at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. "It was why they're so special, so honorable and so worthy of remembrance. Though a solemn occasion, these 24 crew members would be so proud to know we have carried the torch for freedom and assured the freedom of our two nations."

The audience included about 300 members of the 552nd Air Control Wing, most in flight suits, who stood behind retired Airmen, dignitaries and surviving family members seated at the ceremony outside the 552nd ACW's headquarters.

On Sept. 22, 1995, a flock of geese catastrophically damaged two of Yukla 27's engines on takeoff, wiping out thrust on the left side of the plane. The 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron plane was airborne for 42 seconds before banking into the ground about a mile from the end of the runway.

Eighteen of the crew members were married and 31 children lost their fathers that day, the colonel said.

Colonel Gaedecke said the crew members would have been proud of the special relationship maintained by the two nations. The Canadian Detachment, which lost two Airmen, has flown with its American counterparts at Tinker AFB since 1979.

"They would cheer knowing we have taken the fight to our enemy abroad and protected our citizens at home," Colonel Gaedecke said. "Their deaths were not in vain. Their sacrifice serves as motivation and a reminder of greatness, of honor, of commitment, and of excellence.

"Let's all remember to never forget, to be grateful and to learn by the example of honor these 24 heroes set for us all those years ago," the colonel said. "May the crew of Yukla two-seven rest in peace and continue their faithful watch over all of us as angels of America's Wing."

The colonel, Canadian Detachment Commander Lt. Col. Don "Boc" Saunders, retired former wing Commander Col. Wylie Koiner and retired Master Sgt. Ken Lybolt laid a wreath of white roses, peonies and calla lilies at the base of the fallen Airmen's granite monument. Mr. Lybolt, a Tinker civilian employee, was the maintenance crew chief of "Yukla two-seven" and witnessed the crash from the flight line.

Tech. Sgt. Justin Stacey read aloud each of the 24 fallen Airmen's names, referred to as "the brave 24."

The Airmen lost that day are:
1st Lt. Carlos A. Arriaga, weapons director
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Bramer, flight engineer
Staff Sgt. Scott A. Bresson, airborne radar technician
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Collins, communications systems operator
Senior Airman Lawrence E. DeFrancesco, communications systems operator
Tech. Sgt. Bart L. Holmes Sr., flight engineer
Lt. Col. Richard G. Leary, navigator
Master Cpl. Joseph J.P. Legault, Canadian Forces, communications technician
Capt. Robert J. Long, senior weapons director
Master Sgt. Stephen C. O'Connell, advanced airborne surveillance technician
Capt. Bradley W. Paakola, co-pilot
Tech. Sgt. Ernest R. Parrish, area specialist
Sgt. David L. Pitcher, Canadian Forces, battle director technician
Capt. Glenn "Skip" Rogers Jr., aircraft commander
Airman Jeshua C. Smith, airborne surveillance technician
Staff Sgt. Raymond O. Spencer Jr., airborne surveillance technician
Maj. Richard P. Stewart II, mission crew commander
Tech. Sgt. Charles D. Sweet Jr., airborne radar technician
Maj. Marlon R. Thomas, mission crew commander
Tech. Sgt. Timothy B. Thomas, computer display maintenance technician
Maj. Steven A. Tuttle, airborne surveillance officer
Tech. Sgt. Brian K. Van Leer, advanced airborne surveillance technician
Airman Darien F. Watson, airborne surveillance technician
Senior Airman Joshua N. Weter, computer display maintenance technician