SPOKANE — Fairchild Air Force Base officials said Sunday that they are planning a public memorial service for the first Fairchild crew killed in a tanker plane crash since the beginning of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade ago.Three airmen were killed when, according to witnesses, the KC-135 they were flying exploded Friday over Kyrgyzstan.
"Certainly we've been through it before, but it's been a long time," said Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild. "We need to carry their torch, and we need to remember them."
The crash is the first fatality involving a tanker crew from Fairchild since 1999.
Base officials identified the crew as Tech. Sgt. Herman "Tre" Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif.; Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, of Spokane; and Capt. Mark Tyler Voss, 27, of Boerne, Texas.
"Their mission is to deliver, and these brave airmen were headed south on a mission to fuel freedom for our great nation," Newberry said at a news conference Sunday afternoon outside the refueling wing's headquarters on base. "They were answering the call so that others may prevail, and they gave the ultimate sacrifice."
The three airmen from the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron were flying a KC-135 tanker near Chon-Aryk, Kyrgyzstan, after taking off from Manas Air Base. The squadron is one of two Air Force refueling squadrons stationed at Fairchild as part of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Witnesses told the Associated Press that the plane exploded in the air.
Mackey, the newest arrival to Fairchild among the three, leaves behind his wife, Megan Mackey; daughter, Payton; his mother; three sisters and two brothers. Newberry said he had previous experience flying drones.
His wife, Megan Mackey, told Fairchild officials that he would "light up the room with his humor and smile," according to a Fairchild news release.
"He had no enemies, was a stranger to no one and was always there to lend a hand to anyone who needed it," the news release said.
Pinckney is survived by her husband, Richard Pinckney; 7-month-old son, Gabriel; her parents and two sisters.
Newberry said he remembered her sharing baby pictures soon after Gabriel was born.
"Not only was she a fine airman, but she was a mom. She was one of the first members of Team Fairchild that I learned was pregnant," said Newberry, who took command of the wing in August. "I remember all the happiness that she had."
Her biography provided by Fairchild says she played on the women's rugby team at the Air Force Academy and has a black belt in karate. But she also liked to crochet and scrapbook.
Newberry called Voss a "great aircraft commander."
"Every time I saw him he would come forward and he would have a smile on his face," he said.
Voss, like Pinckney, was a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He graduated from pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas in 2010 and was promoted to captain in May 2012. He is survived by his parents, a brother and a sister.
The plane that crashed was assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Newberry said it's not uncommon for crews to fly planes from different bases.
"We just come together as one Air Force family, and it doesn't matter the color on the tail, you go ahead and fly," Newberry said.
Kyrgyz officials told the Associated Press that two bodies from the crash were located on Saturday.
Newberry said he didn't have further information about the search for bodies, but that they eventually will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.The last major KC-135 crash involving a Fairchild crew occurred in 2006 at Manas Air Base, but all crew members survived.
The last crash involving a Fairchild KC-135 with Air Force fatalities occurred in 1999 when a KC-135 crashed near Geilenkirchen Air Base in Germany. Four men from the Washington Air National Guard's 141st Air Refueling Wing died in the crash.
Fairchild officials are planning a public ceremony to honor the airmen, probably at a large venue off-base "so that we can remember them all together," Newberry said.
"We will continue to be strong here," Newberry said. "We will continue to do our mission."