Since Fairchild Air Force Base first received the refueling mission in 1957, four KC-135s and more than 60 airmen have been killed in mishaps over the last 50 years.
The last crash involving a KC-135 was in January 1999, when a Fairchild-based tanker with the 141st Air Refueling Wing went down during a training exercise at the NATO airbase at Geilenkirchen, Germany. The aircraft, dubbed "Esso 77", was performing touch and gos and had just taken off from the airbase when it crashed into a heavily wooded area.
Washington Air National Guardsmen Major David Fite, Captain Ken Thiele, Major Matthew Laiho and Technical Sergeant Rich Visintainer were killed in the crash. A memorial was dedicated near the crash site in 2000.
Prior to that, there were three other crashes involving KC-135s around Fairchild Air Force Base:
- In 1962, a KC-135 was on approach to Fairchild from Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, SD when it crashed into a ravine on Mount Kit Carson 32 kilomters northeast of Fairchild. 44 people were killed in that crash.
- In 1967, a KC-135, flying from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii to Fairchild, crashed into Shadow Mountain while on descent into Spokane. 9 people were killed in that crash.
- In 1987 a KC-135 crashed at Fairchild Air Force while rehearsing maneuvers for an air show. The crash was later determined to be the result of the tanker hitting the wake turbulence of a B-52 ahead of it, causing the aircraft to roll 90 degrees, and was flying too low and slow for the air crew to recover. Six airmen in the KC-135 and a spectator on the ground were killed in the crash.