Local News

Fairchild air crews briefed on "Shell 77" crash

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - Fairchild crash investigation

Air crews at Fairchild Air Force Base have been briefed regarding the findings of the investigation into a KC-135 crash near Manas, Kyrgyzstan that killed three Fairchild airmen.

Capt. Mark Voss, 27, of Colorado Springs, Capt. Victoria Pinckney, 27, of Palmdale, Calif. and Tech Sgt. Herman Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif. were killed when their KC-135 crashed shortly after takeoff from the Transit Center at Manas on May 3.

The trio were assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron based at Fairchild.

Fairchild officials report that following the crash a Safety Investigation Board convened to gather information from the crash site so that air crews could be briefed.

Investigators immediately tested the jet fuel coming out of the fuel farm at the Transit Center, listened to conversations the crew had moments before their plane was torn apart and they have literally been piecing together the remaining parts of the ill-fated tanker looking for breaks in the wings and tail that would show why this tanker exploded into multiple pieces at 20,000 feet.

Days after the crash, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander, Col. Brian Newberry, was looking ahead to make sure this type of crash doesn't happen again.

"Anytime there is an aviation accident, the Air Force takes great pains to get the information so we can continue to be safe as we refuel freedom," Newberry said on May 6.

Fairchild's public information office confirmed Wednesday Newberry has already briefed air crews on the Safety Investigation Board's findings, but those findings will not be released publicly, the base public information office said.

Meanwhile a second group looking into the crash, the Aircraft Investigation Board, is continuing its examination and hopes to release its findings into the mishap within the next two months.

The day of the crash, the air crew of "Shell 77" were outbound from Manas on an afternoon refueling mission and were approximately 100 miles out when they requested a route change. The Russian International News Agency reported, but the Air Force has never confirmed, that the crew was concerned about lightning and large cumulous clouds in their flight path.

KXLY sources report the debris field at the impact site indicate the aircraft suddenly broke apart in mid-air eight minutes after leaving Manas. Cell phone video shot around 2:45 p.m. local time the day of the crash shows a smoke plume trailing burning debris plummeting to the ground. At the impact site, a farmer told reporters he witnessed the debris falling to the ground.

"I was working in the field and heard the sound of explosions, saw a great fire. That fire fell and broke into three pieces when it hit the ground. All the pieces were falling. Three or four places burned and smoked and the wing was falling apart," the farmer said through an interpreter.

In June, according to KXLY sources, large sections of the airframe were flown Air Mobility Command's headquarters at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois while the tanker's flight recorder was transported to the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico for the investigation.

Once the Aircraft Investigation Board's report is completed it would be released first, under coordination with the Air Force Chief of Staff, to the families of Voss, Pinckney and Mackey and then the Air Force and Fairchild would release a section of that report to the public.

While that report has not been completed, KXLY sources report pilot error was not a factor for the loss of the KC-135.