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Geilenkirchen to honor victims of 1999 crash

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Shortly before touching down after a routine refueling mission on Jan. 13, 1999, the ill-fated KC-135 Stratotanker aborted an attempted landing. The pilots informed the control tower at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen that they would go around and try again.

The Washington Air National Guard air refueling tanker never made it.

The plane crashed just outside the airfield, killing all four crewmembers one day before they were to return home to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash.

On Friday, to mark the 15th anniversary of the tragedy and honor the lives of the fallen airmen, the small NATO base near the German-Dutch border will host a remembrance ceremony. The event takes place at 11 a.m. near the memorial rock in front of the E-3A Component headquarters building.

Geilenkirchen is home to NATO’s Airborne Early Warning Force Command’s E-3A Component.

Crewmembers, maintenance personnel and senior leaders from Fairchild plan to attend the ceremony, according to NATO officials at Geilenkirchen.

Killed in the crash were the pilot, Maj. David Fite; co-pilot Capt. Kenneth Thiele; navigator Maj. Matthew Laiho; and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer, the aircraft’s boom operator. The four were serving in the Air National Guard.

An Air Force accident investigation board concluded the aircraft’s pitch up to a near-vertical attitude and subsequent stall during a landing attempt were the cause of the crash, according to news reports about the investigation’s findings.

A piece of equipment — called a horizontal stabilizer trim — on the aircraft’s tail was in the wrong position, but investigators were unable to determine whether the trim setting was caused by mechanical failure or pilot error, according to a June 6, 1999, report in the Kitsap Sun, a newspaper in Washington.
 

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