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National Guard Plane Crash Kills 21

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., March 7, 2001 – The National Guard rallied to support the grief-stricken families and friends of 21 guardsmen killed March 3 in the crash of their twin-engine transport near Unadilla, Ga., 30 miles south of Macon.

A crisis center was set up in Virginia Beach, Va., to help survivors cope with their loss of 18 Virginia Air National Guard civil engineers, officials reported. Chaplains and

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary

(Camp David)

 

March 3, 2001

 

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of 21 members of the Florida and Virginia National Guard aboard a C-23 transport plane that crashed this morning outside Macon, Georgia. This tragic loss on a routine training mission reminds us of the sacrifices made each and every day by all of our men and women in uniform. The price of freedom is never free. Today's events remind us that it is sometimes unspeakably high. On behalf of the entire Bush family, I extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to all members of the 171st Aviation Battalion of the Florida Army National Guard and the 203rd Redhorse Flight of the Virginia Air National Guard. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all during this very difficult time."

family support representatives fanned out across Florida to comfort the families of the three-member Army National Guard flight crew, a Florida Guard spokesman said.

The Virginia guardsmen were members of the 203rd Red Horse Flight and were flying home through heavy rain after two weeks of annual training at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The aircrew of the C-23 Sherpa transport were assigned to Detachment 1, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation in Lakeland, Fla.

No one survived the crash. National Guard historians were calling it among the worst peacetime tragedies in the National Guard’s 364-year history. The cause of the crash remains under investigation. The Virginia and Florida governors authorized state flags to be flown at half-staff.

Lt. Gen. Russell Davis, chief of the National Guard Bureau, pledged immediate support in responding to the needs of the families and members of the two stricken units.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Army and Air Force chiefs of staff extended condolences to the survivors.

“The tragic loss ... reminds us of the sacrifices made each and every day by all of our men and women in uniform,” Bush said in a March 3 statement. “The price of freedom is never free. Today’s events remind us that it is sometimes unspeakably high.”

Virginia National Guard officials reported an outpouring of help and support from the communities of the Virginia Beach area, to include civilian agencies and all the services. As many as a dozen chaplains and three members of a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors team offered psychological and moral support to an estimated two dozen family members and to other Air Guard members of the Virginia Beach engineer unit.

“The mood here is very somber. This is a tremendous loss for the families and for the other people in this unit to have to come to grips with,” said Maj. Debbie Magaldi, an Air Guard spokesperson.

March 4, 2001

 

STATEMENT OF

SECRETARY RUMSFELD

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld today released the following statement: 

"I extend my deepest sympathy to the families who lost their loved ones in yesterday's tragic plane crash in Georgia. Military service involves great danger, in times of peace as well as war, and this accident provides stark proof of that. We will do our very best to take care of the needs of family members in this difficult time. All 21 of these fine Americans served their country honorably and well and we will remember their service and sacrifice."

Red Horse is an Air Force acronym for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer. The civil engineer units erect tent cities and other facilities for troops in the field. The C-23 Sherpa can carry up to 30 passengers and is also used to transport equipment and for airdrops and medical evacuations.

“Both organizations have taken a very hard blow that will impact the members, their families, and their communities,” Guard Bureau chief Davis said of the afflicted units. “Our hearts are heavy with the magnitude of this sudden catastrophe. The National Guard family extends its deepest sympathy to the families of the soldiers and airmen who were lost.”

The Air Guard members killed in the accident were Maj. Frederick Watkins, Master Sgts. James Beninati and Eric Bulman, and Tech. Sgts. Edwin Richardson, Ernest Blawas and Dean Shelby, all of Virginia Beach, Va.; Master Sgt. Michael Lane, Moyock, N.C.; Tech. Sgt. Michael East, Parksley, Va.; Staff Sgts. Paul Blancato, Paul Cramer and Ronald Elkin, all of Norfolk, Va.; Staff Sgts. Andrew Bridges and John Sincavage, both of Chesapeake, Va.; Staff Sgt. James Ferguson, Newport News, Va.; Staff Sgt. Randy Johnson, Emporia, Va.; Staff Sgt. Gregory Skurupey, Gloucester, Va.; Staff Sgt. Richard Summerell, Franklin, Va.; and Senior Airman Matthew Kidd, Hampton, Va.

The Army Guard aircrew members killed were Chief Warrant Officer John Duce, Orange Park, Fla.; Chief Warrant Officer Eric Larson, Land-O-Lakes, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Robert Ward Jr., Lakeland, Fla.

STATEMENT BY LT GEN RUSSELL DAVIS

CHIEF OF THE NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU

I know that I speak for the men and women of the National Guard who were stricken on Saturday, March 3, 2001, by the tragic loss of our comrades. Our hearts are heavy with the magnitude of this sudden catastrophe.

The National Guard family extends its deepest sympathy to the families of the soldiers and airmen who were lost. They were killed in the execution of their duties, and their sacrifice was in the service to their country. This tragedy will resonate among every one of us in the National Guard as we pray for the victims and their families.

Our heartfelt sympathy also goes out to the men and women of the 203rd Red Horse Flight in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and to the 171st Aviation Battalion in Lakeland, Florida. Both organizations have taken a very hard blow that will impact the members, their families, and their communities.

I pledge our immediate support in responding to the needs of these members and their families as they cope with the aftermath of this devastating loss.

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