Airmen snapped to attention to render a solemn salute as they watched the U.S. flag being lowered in front of them. More than 50 Airmen from the 86th Operations Group gathered for a remembrance ceremony and retreat April 29 on Ramstein.
Lt. Col. Daniel Mangan, 76th Airlift Squadron commander, led the formation that is held annually to honor those who paid the ultimate price two decades ago.
On April 3, 1996, an aircrew from the 76th Airlift Squadron assembled to prepare for a mission over Dubrovnik, Croatia. As they readied a Boeing CT-43A and passengers for the Implementation Force 21 mission, they could have never predicted the challenges they were about to face.
Six Airmen from Ramstein and 35 passengers lost their lives on that flight while transporting a distinguished visitor.
The aircrew made fatal mistakes that ultimately cost them and the passengers their lives; these mistakes have helped Airmen learn valuable lessons even today.
The CT-43A used for this flight was formerly a T-43A navigator training aircraft converted for distinguished-visitor travel. The pilots were faced with an unusual maneuver that night, which involved a non-precision type of instrument approach to their landing, which lacked vertical guidance that U.S. pilots are used to. The approach was not sanctioned for Department of Defense aircraft nor were the pilots proficient in this type of landing. First Lt. Benjamin Kram, 76th Airlift Squadron pilot, explained the accident has taught Airmen how important paying attention to detail is to avoid any tragedies like this in the future.
“They were doing the exact same job that we are doing now,” Kram said. “It could have been anyone of us. There were some mistakes made by the crew that led to the incident, so remembering that gets the squadron to take a look at what we can do better in the future to make sure we don’t have another incident like this. … They (were) Airmen, our brothers and sisters, so it’s important to honor them.”
Although the mission at the 86th OG continues around the clock, Airmen took time out of their schedules to remember their fallen wingmen.
“It was such an honor to be able to take time and pay tribute to the six crewmembers who made the ultimate sacrifice 20 years ago,” said Senior Airman Andie Carlson, 76th AS flight attendant. “It also serves as a reminder that each day the people around us put their lives on the line to meet a greater purpose; that’s bravery in its truest form. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to serve with the men and women I do, and to honor the individuals who I will never get the chance to.”
Although the flag approached the ground with the close of the duty day, Airmen continue to remember those who have served before them to better achieve the mission in the future.