We all love to celebrate various milestones occurring along mankind’s endless journey into, and even beyond the earth’s atmosphere. For the most part we like to commemorate our successes, the times we somehow got it all right and miraculously bested gravity for a time.
But sometimes we need to stop and remember what it took to get us to where we are today, a pause to honor the fallen that never returned. For the crew of YUKLA 27, September 22, 1995 was just another routine day on the job, but little did they know the fate that awaited them that morning.
Full of fuel for a 6+ hour training mission, the ill-fated Boeing E-3A Sentry from the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron suffered catastrophic bird strikes as they rotated from the runway at Elmendorf AFB (now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson).
The geese were ingested in the #1 and #2 engines (#2 failed outright and #1 stalled), effectively killing power to the left side of the aircraft, drastically reducing the available thrust and causing severe asymmetric power. Though the crew immediately attempted to dump fuel to reduce weight and return to Elmendorf, the remaining engine power and rudder authority were simply not up to the task of keeping the heavy E-3 airborne.

A memorial to YUKLA 27 resides outside the 3rd Wing headquarters at JBER
A memorial to YUKLA 27 resides outside the 3rd Wing headquarters at JBER (photo by Jason Hyatt)

Less than 30 seconds after rotation, the stick shaker in the cockpit activated, and the crew fought the stalling aircraft all the way to the ground. YUKLA 27 crashed into wooded terrain less than a mile from the base, resulting in the deaths of all 24 US and Canadian crewmembers onboard.
YUKLA 27’s flight on September 22, 1995 lasted less than a minute, but the memory of the crew has endured for the last 20 years in the hearts and minds of those who lost. The 962nd AACS still runs the crash scenario in the simulator, and every crewmember is reminded of the fact that there are situations in the airplane that are unrecoverable.
A service at the YUKLA 27 memorial outside the 3rd Wing headquarters took place earlier today, a sobering reminder of how delicate life can be and that even tough machines can be brought down due to circumstances beyond your control. The crew of YUKLA 27 unfortunately found themselves in one of those dreaded situations, and today there are many out there that are remembering them, twenty years on. Godspeed, YUKLA 27.