‘We grieve’: Loved ones pay tribute to 8 airmen lost in Osprey crash off Japan
Stars and Stripes December 6, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Public tributes from friends, families and others have been pouring in for eight airmen killed last week when their CV-22B Osprey crashed off Japan’s southwestern coast.
The tiltrotor — assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo — went down Nov. 29 near Yakushima, an island in Kagoshima prefecture.
The body of Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher, 24, of Pittsfield, Mass., was recovered shortly after the crash. Five others were found Monday along with the Osprey’s fuselage; two remain missing.
Air Force Special Operations Command announced Tuesday that search-and-rescue efforts have transitioned to a recovery operation and identified the other seven airmen:
• Maj. Jeffrey Hoernemann, 32, a CV-22 instructor pilot and officer in charge of training from Andover, Minn.
• Maj. Eric Spendlove, 36, a flight surgeon and medical operations flight commander from St. George, Utah
• Maj. Luke Unrath, 34, a CV-22 pilot and flight commander from Riverside, Calif.
• Capt. Terrell Brayman, 32, a CV-22 pilot and flight commander from Pittsford, N.Y.
• Tech Sgt. Zachary Lavoy, 33, a medical operations flight chief from Oviedo, Fla.
• Staff Sgt. Jake Turnage, 25, a flight engineer from Kennesaw, Ga.
• Senior Airman Brian Johnson, 32, a flight engineer from Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Some of the airmen’s family members took to social media to publicly honor their loved ones.
“Please keep my son Zachary Lavoy in your prayers,” his mother, Ella Lavoy, wrote on Facebook. “His contagious smile will only live in our photos and memories. He loved his country, his job and lived to serve.”
Turnage’s father, Jim Turnage, posted a joint message from the family.
“We grieve but not as those with no hope,” the Facebook message said. “Jake is with Jesus.”
Hoernemann’s wife, Jess Boozer, shared how proud she is of her husband.
“If I knew Wednesday morning when you left for work would be the last time I saw you, I would have hugged you tighter and never let you go,” she wrote on Facebook. “You will always be my best friend and the greatest love of my life.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered flags be flown at half-staff to honor Unrath and the other airmen.
“Jennifer and I are heartbroken by the loss of eight Airmen, including Maj. Luke Unrath of Riverside, and we send our deepest condolences to their family, friends and colleagues during this painful time,” he wrote in a statement Tuesday. “California joins the nation in mourning this devastating loss and honoring their service to our country.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox thanked Spendlove for his service in a Tuesday post to X, formerly known as Twitter.
“We’re deeply saddened to learn about the tragic passing of U.S. Air Force Maj. Eric V. Spendlove from St. George, Utah,” he wrote. “Maj. Spendlove served this nation with honor, and our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this difficult time.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the entire state’s prayers are with those who knew Brayman.
“My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of U.S. Air Force Capt. Terrell Brayman, a New Yorker who was tragically lost in an aircraft crash off the coast of Japan,” she wrote Wednesday on Facebook.
Johnson’s alma mater, Morehead State University, issued a statement remembering him as a “very involved and engaged” student who was “loved across campus and a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.”
In Japan, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa offered letters of condolences to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.
“The Government of Japan expresses its deepest respect and gratitude to their contributions to the Japan-U.S. Alliance,” she wrote. “I would like to extend my sincere condolences for the loss of eight crew members and extend my deepest sympathy to their bereaved families.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in a condolence letter to President Joe Biden, expressed his “heartfelt gratitude for the members of U.S. Forces Japan who carry out missions day and night, far away from their hometowns and families, to maintain peace and security of Japan.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.