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Memento returned to family of navigator killed 50 years ago

A ceramic stein belonging to Capt. Paul L. Utz, F-101B Voodoo navigator and radar officer assigned to the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Otis Air Force Base, Mass. who was killed when his aircraft crashed on March 21, 1968. The stein was discovered five decades after his death during a building renovation and returned to his family.

KERRI SPERO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By CHRISTINE LEGERE | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. | Published: February 9, 2019

JOINT BASE CAPE COD (Tribune News Service) — Just shy of 4 p.m. on March 21, 1968, aircraft control personnel at Otis Air Force Base lost radio and radar contact with a supersonic jet fighter, known as an F-101B Voodoo, returning from routine flight maneuvers.

It turned out the sleek aircraft had plunged through heavy fog into the chilly waters of Cape Cod Bay about 12 miles off the coast.

The Coast Guard crew aboard the first vessel to arrive at the scene pulled from the water the body of 25-year-old pilot Randall Toffle, an Air Force captain with a wife and 1-year-old child. The young family was living in East Falmouth.

Toffle's navigator and radar officer, Capt. Paul Utz, the only other crew member, was nowhere to be found.

The next day's headlines trumpeted above the banner in the Cape Cod Standard Times: "One Dead, One Missing As Otis Jet Crashes."

A memorial with full military honors was held at the base for the pair four days after the crash.

As the service ended, fellow members of the tight-knit 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron honored the pilot and his navigator, streaking across the sky for a ceremonial flyover.

The days of searching for Utz continued.

It was not until March 27 – six days after the crash – that professional divers retrieved the jet's fuselage along with Utz's body.

The 32-year-old Air Force captain left behind his wife and three children, ages 6, 4 and 1.

The cause of the crash remains a matter of conjecture. It may have been a combination of the foggy conditions and the exhaustion of the pilot and crew member, who were trying to complete the required hours of airtime. No indication of distress had been made in the moments before the loss of communication. The men are believed to have been on the final run of the day.

Family members have long since left New England to resume their lives.

But nearly 50 years later, a large ceramic stein, a signature item of fighter pilots that was emblazoned with Utz's name and squadron insignia, turned up during major renovation of a base building that in the past had been a hangout for Otis pilots.

Through the efforts of two master sergeants currently assigned to the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Air National Guard, the stein was saved and recently returned to Utz's family, which now lives in Texas.

The search that led to its return was a two-year process.

Master Sgt. Robert Segrin recalled the day in 2016 when he first saw the stein. Saws were zinging and hammers pounding as the base building was being gutted. "When the countertop of the bar was removed, I spotted the stein underneath – it was seconds from being destroyed," Segrin said. "I don't know if it was put there on purpose or just made its way into the corner. It was difficult to see."

The stein is unique to the aviation community, Segrin said, so he snatched it up. This one, he knew, predated his time and the 102nd's tenure at Joint Base Cape Cod.

Segrin decided to track its owner but had little luck. At the time, he had no idea the Air Force captain had been killed in a plane crash.

Several months later, he met Master Sgt. Pat Ryan, also a member of the 102nd, who was intrigued by the mystery of the stein.

"To find a piece of history like this was fascinating," Ryan said. "I took off and ran with it."

The information was unearthed little by little, Ryan said. "Then I went to ancestry.com and found a piece of the obituary."

The next task was tracking down Utz's family members.

They located Utz's son, David Utz Guyton, and Segrin contacted him by phone.

"I was shocked when I got the call," Guyton told the Times from his Texas home. It was strange to have someone calling about his father 50 years after his death.

Utz was happy to hear about the stein and provided Segrin with his address.

"The effort they put into tracking us down was incredible," Guyton said. He even knew the story behind the nickname "Wyatt" inscribed on the back of the stein. "It was because of my father's mustache and because he was an excellent marksman," he said.

The challenge became getting the stein into the hands of Utz's family. "It didn't seem right to me or anyone else to put it in a box and have it delivered by UPS," Segrin said.

Ultimately, retired Col. Martin Richard, a former F-15 pilot who now lived near Guyton in Texas, agreed to help. Segrin and Ryan packed the stein, along with past and present patches and mementos related to base pilots, and handed it to Richard's son, Rylan, who was going to his father's house for Christmas.

Father and son traveled to Guyton's home the day after Christmas and presented the stein to Utz's widow, now Jerri-Ann Guyton; David; and Utz's younger daughter, Jennifer Lee. Utz's older daughter has passed away.

David had been one day short of his fourth birthday when his father died. His memories are pretty much limited to images of walks in the woods and playing at home with his dad.

Segrin and Ryan had felt a strong connection with Utz's son, since each had lost his father at age 4. Getting the stein to Utz's family was a mission the men felt they had to complete.

"I can't imagine if someone contacted me today and said they had something of my dad's," Ryan said. "I would be elated."

Utz's grandson, James Guyton, also was there when the stein arrived. He said he was impressed by the effort made by the service members who tracked down the family as well as those who delivered it to them. "I know it was out of their way to do it, and they did it for us," young Guyton said. "I appreciate it a lot."

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(c)2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
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