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Air Force identifies nine killed in Albania crash

By RON JENSEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 5, 2005

RAF MILDENHALL, England — Five officers and four enlisted men were the victims of the MC-130H crash last week in Albania.

The Air Force confirmed the deaths Sunday and released the names Monday of the nine airmen stationed at RAF Mildenhall. There were no survivors.

The dead are: Capt. Todd R. Bracy; Capt. James S. Cronin; Capt. Gil C. Williamson; Capt. Surender D. Kothakota; 1st Lt. Ray C. Owens Jr.; Chief Master Sgt. Lawrence B. Gray; Tech. Sgt. James R. Henry; Tech. Sgt. Glenn P. Lastes; and Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Pentico.

All but Lastes were members of the 7th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 352nd Special Operations Group. Lastes was a member of Detachment 2, 25th Intelligence Operations Squadron, another tenant unit at RAF Mildenhall.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes on Monday afternoon, Col. Dennis Jones, commander of the 352nd, said the recovery of the bodies was not yet complete at the crash site on a mountain 35 miles southeast of Tirana, the capital city of Albania.

An Air Force investigation of the crash began immediately, he said, and would take “at least a couple months.”

The investigation team is supported by Aviano Air Base, Italy, the closest base to the crash site, he said.

Jones said he was called late Thursday by the commander of the 7th SOS and told “we had an aircraft overdue. At that point, we did not know what had happened.”

Four hours passed before the crew of another MC-130H reported seeing possible wreckage on the mountain.

“That [was] a very rough four hours,” Jones said. “The next couple days were a blur.”

Notifying the next of kin, a duty handled by the unit commanders, was difficult, Jones said, because the families of five crash victims live in the States. The nearest Air Force base to each family handled the notification.

The base, home to 5,000 active-duty airmen, plans a memorial service at 2 p.m. Wednesday as everyone is feeling the impact even if they didn’t know the victims.

“There’s definitely a sense of loss. We’re on the same base. We were co-workers,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Blickenstaff of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “We’re all doing the same thing.”

Airman 1st Class David Weidner of the 100th Security Forces Squadron said his thoughts immediately went to squadron mates who are deployed to Albania.

“I was concerned that some of our people were hurt,” he said, admitting a sense of only “slight relief” that his fellow cops were not involved.

Jones said the group deals with the grief much in the same way a family does, but he and his airmen have to continue their daily routines.

“We try,” he said, “but it is obviously difficult to maintain focus.”


Names of the dead

The names of the nine airmen who died Thursday in a plane crash in Albania:

  • Capt. Todd R. Bracy, 34, of Murphysboro, Ill.
  • Capt. James S. Cronin, 32, of Oak Grove Village, Ill.
  • Capt. Gil C. Williamson, 31, of Dike, Texas
  • Capt. Surender D. Kothakota, 30, of Fayetteville, N.C.
  • 1st Lt. Ray C. Owens Jr., 22, of Birmingham, Ala.
  • Chief Master Sgt. Lawrence B. Gray, 40, of Chester, S.C.
  • Tech. Sgt. James R. Henry, 30, of Valparaiso, Fla.
  • Tech. Sgt. Glenn P. Lastes, 39, of Southington, Conn.
  • Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Pentico, 22, of Hanksville, Utah

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