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Team McChord remembers: 30th anniversary of C-141 collision

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Toby Thompson, left, Col. David Morales, center, and an Airman with the McChord Field Honor Guard render a salute during a remembrance ceremony at JBLM, Nov. 30, 2022. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Rachel Williams

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - A sea of airmen, past and present, gathered for a remembrance ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Nov. 30, 2022.

The ceremony was held to commemorate the 13 airmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice when two C-141B Starlifters collided during routine training.

"Today, we solemnly remember our fallen comrades, and the now-decommissioned C-141 Starlifter," said U.S. Air Force Col. David Morales, 62d Airlift Wing vice commander. "While 30 years have passed since that tragic night, our dedication to our fallen and their families remains steadfast. I ask that you learn their stories and together, we will help them live on - in our memories, in our history, and in the way we conduct our mission."

On that fateful night 30 years ago, Nov. 30, 1992, a four-ship formation of C-141s departed McChord Field, not knowing what dreadful tragedy lies ahead.

That evening, the four Starlifter crews were scheduled to fly in a four-ship formation to conduct aerial refueling, low-level night flying and standard airdrop operations. The formation was meeting up with an Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, to conduct aerial refueling operations over north-central Montana.

Morales quoted Ernest K. Gamm, "It's when things are going just right that you'd better be suspicious ... You say to yourself, ‘Nothing can go wrong!' All my trespasses are forgiven. Best you not believe it."

Over the Montana night sky, Tails 0142 and 0255 collided while conducting aerial refueling maneuvers. The crash resulted in the tragic loss of both crews and both C-141 aircraft.

"All 13 airmen who perished that day were professional service members dedicated to their country, their craft, and each other," said Morales. "We can honor their memory by learning from their story and telling that story loudly and proudly to all that would hear it."

The C-141 holds a rich history within the heritage of McChord Field. The Starlifter was the premier airframe for the 62d Airlift Wing prior to when the C-17 Globemaster III became operational. The C-141 was retired out of McChord in 2002; the aircraft was later decommissioned in 2006.

"We gather together on this pivotal anniversary to remember and honor the 13 men who were lost, to heal and to understand," said Morales. "We will not forsake their memory, nor will we abandon the valuable lessons the passing of their lives has taught us."

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