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ASAN, South Korea — It was around 2:30 p.m. last Aug. 12, a clear day, when rice farmer Chang Yong-geun heard the loud impact and rushed outside.

A small U.S. Army aircraft, a C-12 Huron, already reportedly in flames on its way down, had plunged into a small rice plot and broken into pieces. Part of the aircraft ended up yards over in a second small rice field, one very near Chang’s reddish brick house.

Wednesday, the pilots’ immediate families and former unit gathered near the shade of a large tree about 70 yards from the accident site for a short, simple memorial service for Capt. Kevin M. Norman, 30, and Chief Warrant Officer David W. Snow, 37, two Army aviators killed in what had been a routine training flight.

And because Chang and many others in this small rural community about 20 minutes from Camp Humphreys agree with the Army that the pilots, knowing they were going to crash, made a special effort to try to steer the plane away from buildings and people, about 40 village residents, including the local vice mayor, braved the afternoon heat to attend the service.

Also present were Norman’s widow, Brandi and Snow’s widow, Amy, with his daughters Emily and Olivia. Young Olivia was held for part of the service by a soldier from Snow’s former unit.

A second service was scheduled for Thursday at K-16 Air Base in Seoul.

They stood composed and silent throughout the 15-minute ceremony, which opened at 2 p.m. with brief remarks by Maj. Carleton W. Birch, 17th Aviation Brigade chaplain.

“Welcome ... to the place of your husbands’ and father’s crash site,” Birch said. “We have had our hearts ripped out ... but with God’s help, healing is coming.”

Each pilot’s widow was presented a plaque of “meritorious service” from Asan city officials. The plaques honor each pilot for steering “his malfunctioning aircraft away from a crowded restaurant during his last few moments of flight.”

Speaking through an interpreter just before the ceremony, Asan Vice Mayor Kim Young-ho told Stars and Stripes that local residents turned out to honor the pilots because, “they understand the pilots … tried not to damage any local residents” or buildings. The residents credit the pilots with acting in a “spirit of sacrifice to protect others,” Kim said.

Also speaking at Wednesday’s service was Col. David J. Abramowitz, commander of the 17th Aviation Brigade. “It’s a very difficult day and a very difficult time for all of us,” he told the group.

It meant “so much” to the pilot’s family members, Abramowitz said, “that the civilians are out here today, because you recognize, as we do, that the pilots are heroes.”

If one were to fly over the area, Abramowitz said, it would be evident that virtually the only spot to bring in an aircraft without almost certain harm to people and buildings is the spot where the Huron came down.

“And the one place they landed is the only place” it could have been done safely, he said.

“We hope,” he said, “and we know, that you’ll never forget these two great warriors.”


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