Crash brings nations together to remember

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael L. Brown
  • 141st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Jan. 13, marked the 15 year anniversary of a KC-135E Stratotanker crash just outside of Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, Germany. The crash was the deadliest in the 90 year history of the 141st Air Refueling Wing, located at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

Four Air National Guard crew members, all assigned to the 141st ARW, lost their lives in the crash. They are:

Maj. David W. Fite, 41, pilot, born in Long Beach, Calif.
Maj. Matthew F. Laiho, 40, navigator, born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Capt. Kenneth F. Thiele, 31, co-pilot, born in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Tech. Sgt. Richard G. Visintainer, 48, boom operator, born in Riverside, Mich.

Col. Daniel J. Swain, commander 141st ARW along with members of the 141st went to Germany to visit the crash site for the 15th annual memorial ceremony.

A select few 141st ARW members attended the ceremony to represent all the men and women of the 141st ARW.

"I don't just speak for myself," said Swain, "I speak on behalf of the personnel from the wing."

The members spent several days in Geilenkirchen touring the crash site and memorials for the crew of "ESSO 77."

During the tour of the memorial, Swain met Else Kriska who has been providing care for the memorial for the last 15 years. Kriska and her late partner Hans Carduck started caring for the memorial shortly after it was erected. They started taking care of the memorial because Carkduck lost a family member in Russia, and a Russian family took care of his family's memorial. This was their way to give something back.

"While a very sad event, we tried to focus on the positives that have come from this situation," said Swain. "The incident has brought communities and whole nations together."

The memorial featured a group of German Wachbataillon, who are the German military's elite drill team. Their primary mission is to perform military honors for the German president, the German Chancellor, the Federal Minister of Defense and the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr or German military during state visits or on comparable occasions. The group traveled more than 380 miles from Berlin to be a part of the ceremony honoring the crew.

The ceremony also featured remarks by Col. Paul "Greg" Bell, E3-A Component wing commander, Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Mueller, and Swain.

"The selfless dedication and unfortunate ultimate sacrifice resulting from a routine air refueling mission as part of a NATO exercise ended the lives of four members, but has touched the lives of thousands forever," said Swain during his remarks. "Every KC-135 out there is safer now because of this incident."

Swain flew with Thiele prior to joining the Washington Air National Guard while they were on active duty together.

"He was a confident and competent pilot," said Swain. "It brings to light and reminds us that what we do is a very dangerous profession."