Fifteen years ago, 35 people walked through their squadron doors to board a Boeing CT-43, unaware it would be their last flight.
On April 3, 1996, Implementation Force 21, call sign “IFO 21,” crashed into a hillside in Dubrovnik, Croatia, killing all aboard, including six Airmen from the 76th Airlift Squadron and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown.
On April 1, the 76th AS Airmen gathered at a memorial stone to remember the fallen and pay special homage to those men and women who died in the tragic event.
“As members of the 76th AS or even the 86th Airlift Wing, the events that occurred on April 3, 1996, are linked to you as well,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon, 86th AW commander. “The very fabric of this squadron is and always will be interwoven with the crew members who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Just like each of you are an integral part of this squadron — as members of the 76th AS or by being here today to honor the Airmen lost in IFO 21 — you are part of a unique and special heritage.”
This year, the 76th AS was pleased to have Petra Aldrich and her teenage sons, Josh and Tim, attend the memorial. Ms. Aldrich is the wife of Staff Sgt. Gerald “Jake” Aldrich, who was a flight engineer aboard IFO 21.
In a letter written for his father’s funeral, Tim described the void of growing up without a father.
“Fifteen years ago, my brother and I could not quite understand what had happened and why we had to live without a father. Over the years, we’ve learned to live with this loss,” the letter reads. “The loss is as present today as it was 15 years ago, but we know our father is looking out for us from heaven.”
Though all 35 lives lost in the crash are recognized, the 76th AS often pays special respects to the six lost from their squadron because to them, the Airmen lost were considered family.
“Being able to participate in a memorial like this makes me feel both proud to be an Airman and proud to be a part of the world’s greatest Air Force,” said 1st Lt. Justin Snyder, 76th AS executive officer. “It’s an honor to be able to do this for the families of those loved and lost. We owe it to them as a squadron. The fallen will always be part of the 76th AS. They may be gone, but they will never be forgotten.”
The ceremony concluded with a C-40 flyover in honor of those who died.
“Aviation is and always will be a dangerous business,” General Dillon said. “We can never get back our Airmen from IFO 21, but we can honor them for their dedication. Fifteen years ago, the crew of IFO 21 walked out of these doors to fly — the same doors that you walk out every day as members of the 76th AS. Today, we remember and honor them.”