On Jan. 14, a ceremony took place to remember the fallen KC-135E crew of ESSO77. The ceremony was attended by current and former members of the 141st Air refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base - to include five complete air crews, members of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force E-3A Component, American Legion Post NL01, local dignitaries and other supporters from the civilian community.
We had the honor of paying tribute to Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer, who perished when their KC-135E Stratotanker crashed near Geilenkirchen Air Base on Jan. 13, 1999.
“This tribute exemplifies the steadfast devotion that we share together as servicemembers,” said Col. Greg Nolting, commander of the 141st Operations Group. “This devotion is an attribute of military service that we cherish. In remembrance, may we honor our fallen friends and their loved ones.”
The crash was the single worst incident resulting in the loss of life for the unit since its formation in 1924, and it was the only fatal accident to occur with a KC-135 since the 141st began aerial refueling in 1976.
“The aircraft accident and loss of our friends was life impacting,” said Nolting. “You never truly recover from a loss of this magnitude as they were our squadron mates, mentors and friends who we shared memories with flying around the globe. The most difficult part to cope with is the thought of the pain their families went through. I think of them often.”