Investigation's findings stir memories for widow of Marine killed in 2017 KC-130 crash

Marine Staff Sgt. William “Billy” Kundrat was killed in a KC-130 crash.


By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Frederick News-Post, Md. | Published: December 7, 2018

Frederick, Md. (Tribune News Service) Ashley Kundrat remembers the last time she saw her husband. The last words. The final text message.

She and her kids were on their way to her parents’ house when they had to turn around because she had forgotten something.

When she got back to the house, her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. William “Billy” Kundrat, ran out to the car. He was laughing, she said, and giving her a hard time about forgetting something.

“He was like, ‘I love you guys so much, I am going to see you soon. I’ll talk to you later tonight,’” Ashley Kundrat said.

The couple and their kids talked on the phone that night. The next day, William Kundrat went to work and then drove to Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he boarded a KC-130T plane with the call sign Yanky 72.

“He texted me right before they were taking off and said, ‘I love you. I’ll talk to you soon. We’re getting on the plane. I love you. I’ll talk to you soon,’” she said. “And that was the last time we heard from him.”

At about 3:45 p.m. Central time on July 10, 2017, the plane experienced what the Marine Corps described as a “catastrophic failure” at 20,000 feet. The plane crashed into a field in Itta Bena, Miss.

William Kundrat, 14 other Marines and one sailor on board were killed.

In a report made public Wednesday, investigators determined that corroded propeller blade broke loose during the flight, which set off a string of events that caused the cargo plane to crash. The crash could have been prevented if civilian Air Force technicians at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia had discovered the corrosion during the aircraft’s last major propeller inspection in 2011, according to the report.

“They said that it is their fault, but I still have lots of questions that I’m hoping to get answered,” Ashley said.

High school sweethearts

Ashley and William met in March 1999. They were in ninth grade at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School.

Ashley was at her friend’s house during a snowstorm. William and his friend walked to the house and the group of high school students hung out. For Ashley and William, the connection was “instantaneous,” Ashley said.

The two dated as sophomores, then again in their senior year of high school. They married in 2004 at age 20.

“He proposed to me in the parking lot [at Tauraso’s restaurant] because he couldn’t wait until we got inside,” Ashley said. “He was so nervous.”

They have two kids — Ethan, 14, and Aleah, 10. William joined the Marine Corps out of high school, following in his father’s footsteps. He deployed nine times, to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. When he was home, William played a big role in his kids’ lives, serving as leaders in their scout troops. The four cooked dinner together. Without him, the nightly meals have changed. The nightly routine has changed.

Everything has changed.

A grieving family

William followed in his father’s footsteps into the military. His father is a retired sergeant major with the Marine Corps. If you ask Lynda Kundrat, her son was the better Marine. He was a Raider. He was the best of the best, she said, just like the other men on the plane.

Lynda wanted her son to go to college, but William knew he was going to go into the military.

“He knew what he wanted. Just like when he fell in love with Ashley,” Lynda Kundrat said. “Ashley was the only woman for him.”

Lynda is grieving. And like Ashley, she still has a question. She knows the Marine Corps did a thorough investigation. But, she wonders, how did someone at Warner Robins fail to do their job?

“It’s very difficult to believe that this happened. And you almost don’t want to,” she said.

He was her only child. Everyone who died on that plane was someone’s child.

“It’s devastating to know the accident was preventable,” she said.

The Air Force cannot say which technicians had inspected the corroded blade in 2011. It had disposed of maintenance records after two years per its own policy. Brig. Gen. John Kubinec, Warner Robins Air Logistics commander at Robins Air Force Base, said in a statement that policies for maintaining C-130 propeller blades will be reviewed.

A widow’s questions

Ashley knew something was wrong when the officers approached the door. Bad news in the military always comes from a set of officers knocking on the door.

There had been an accident. Her husband was missing.

The officers returned for a second time that day. And just like that, Ashley was a widow.

She had worried about her husband before, when he was deployed. But she never thought she had to worry about him while he was traveling. He was supposed to be safe on a plane.

“After hearing the news, our daughter just said, ‘I just miss Daddy so much. I just want him to be here with me,’” Ashley said. “And then our son was just so angry. And he’s old enough now, and so he was asking questions like, ‘Who is going to be accountable for this, Mom? ... How could this have happened? And how could have it been prevented and it still happened to Dad? We need him.’”

While the Air Force and Navy took responsibility, she said she still has questions: Who was responsible for overseeing the work at Warner Robins? How long did the complex go without proper supervision? Were there any prior complaints or incidents? Who decided that work documents should be destroyed after two years?

Has anything changed? Has anyone been held accountable?

She is not alone in her search for answers. There is a support group made up of the wives of the other men killed on the flight. They are like a family to Ashley.

Ashley said that although William is gone, he continues to play a large role in the Kundrats’ lives. They talk about him every day. Pictures of him adorn their home’s walls.

“We carry his name along with us everywhere we go,” she said.

William was a tough guy. He was a Marine, after all. But he also had a soft side. Ashley remembers him dancing in the living room. The character Ron Swanson on “Parks and Rec” reminds her of her husband.

“He was just so funny, and he didn’t know it because he was so serious,” she said.

She sees him in her children. Ethan shares his father’s love of history and being outside. And when she looks at Aleah, she sees William.

“She has dark brown eyes like her dad — so I see him in her every time I look at her,” she said.

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