March 18, 2014 (by A1C Chip Slack) - Members of the 27th Special Operations Wing attended a memorial ceremony, March 14 at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., to mark the 20th anniversary of Jockey 14, a 16th Special Operations Squadron AC-130H Spectre gunship that crashed off the coast of Kenya in 1994.
USAF AC-130H #69-6576 during March of 1988 in-flight near Hurlburt Field, Florida. [USAF photo by Tech. SGT. Lee Schading]
The atmosphere was charged with a sense of remorse and remembrance, as those who came to pay tribute to their fallen brothers took their seats. Throughout the ceremony, Air Commandos listened as Col. Tony Bauernfeind, 27 SOW commander, detailed the chain of events that ultimately claimed the lives of eight members of the Air Force Special Operations Command family.
"On that day, Jockey 14 was tasked to perform a routine, 8.5 hour daily patrol mission near Somalia and the surrounding countries," Bauernfeind said. "Approximately 43 minutes into the flight, the crew began conducting a routine "tweak" of the fire control system. While in the process of firing, one of the high explosive rounds detonated prematurely in the bore of the cannon."
As Bauernfeind continued to create a detailed visual of the events that took place 20 years ago, a hush fell over the crowd.
"The blast and fragments from the munition and exploded gun barrel destroyed one engine on the left side of the aircraft, causing the propeller from that engine to depart the aircraft," Bauernfeind continued. "Additionally, the blast damaged fuel and hydraulic lines to the second engine on the left side, requiring the crew to shut down that engine."
Having already sustained substantial damage to the aircraft, the crew of Jockey 14 would soon discover additional obstacles caused by the devastating blast. The crew fought multiple battles at once. While the front-end crew desperately tried to regain aircraft control and make their way back to the coastline, the back-end crew fought heroically to extinguish the fire onboard the aircraft.
When they were finally able to open the door enough to exit the aircraft, four of the crew members were able to bail out, three were successfully recovered, but one Air Commando was never located. The delay in getting the paratroop door open combined with the inability of the aircraft to maintain altitude, made it too risky to continue with the bail out.
"While simultaneously working through multiple emergency procedures, it became apparent they would not be able to maintain altitude long enough to make landfall, and ditching was inevitable," Bauernfeind said. "The aircraft commander ordered the back-end crew to bailout. However, as the crew prepared to execute the order, they realized the blast had also damaged the right paratroop door, and with the complete loss of hydraulics to open up the ramp, this was their only option to exit the aircraft."
For military members and their families, the sacrifice made by the men and women of the armed forces is a bitter reality. Having to spend months and years away from home and loved ones and being called away at a moment's notice is a part of the commitment that those men and women have vowed to honor. However, the threat of giving one's last full measure by paying the ultimate sacrifice to keep this great nation safe is an ominous wave of emotion that is ever present.
Jockey 14 came down just off the coast of Malindi, Kenya with the impact causing the fuselage to break into two pieces. Of the 10 crew members who remained onboard for the ditching, four initially survived while six were fatally injured. Those four surviving crew members exited through the overhead escape hatch. One of those four, however, was critically injured and succumbed to his injuries before rescue teams could make it to the aircraft. A second of those survivors later succumbed to his injuries many years after the crash.
Capt. David J. Melhop; Capt. Anthony Stefanik; Capt. Nark A. Quam; Master Sgt. Roy S. Duncan; Tech. Sgt. Robert L. Daniel; Tech. Sgt. Steve Anderson; Staff Sgt. William C. Eyler; Staff Sgt. Brian P. Barnes; Staff Sgt. Mike E. Moser.
"Today, we pay tribute to the eight men that paid that price exactly 20 years ago today and the one Airman who later succumbed to his mental injuries," Bauernfeind said. "In the end, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Jockey14 crew, three crew members survived the bailout and three crew members survived the ditching. However, nine crew members perished in service to their country and that is why we honor them this day, and will always remember both their heroism and sacrifice."