On February 26, 1981 while participating in Special Warfare Exercise 81 (SPECWAREX), an MC-130E Combat Talon I (callsign STRAY59) from the 1st Special Operations Squadron crashed into the ocean shortly after departing NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines on a predawn mission. Eight of the nine crewmembers and 15 special operators perished upon impact with the water.

The annual joint exercise was put on by elements within Naval Special Warfare Command. It was a round-the-clock exercise, with crews flying both day and night missions where they conducted low-level flying, psychological operations, as well as practicing various insertion and extraction techniques with the SOF.

STRAY 59 was commanded by Air Force Major James Kirk. He and his crew from 1 SOS were responsible for a total of twelve missions during the course of the exercise, which lasted a little over two weeks. On that fateful morning, their flight was scheduled to be the last of the exercise. The takeoff time for their mission slipped from 0105L to 0430L, due to crew rest requirements in accordance with the reg; they’d had an exceptionally long mission the day prior.

Stray 59 Remembered

At 0428 local time, STRAY 59 departed Cubi point in a standard takeoff, executing a tactical landing profile at 0506L. Fifteen members of a SOF unit boarded the aircraft and two minutes later, the MC-130 executed a tactical departure as they had done countless times before. The crew made their normal operations call to a ground station six minutes into their low-level flight. The second transmission from STRAY 59 came at 0521L, with no indications of anything amiss.

Moments later, a lone fisherman watched in horror as the Combat Talon slammed into the water and exploded. Eight crew members and all fifteen of the special operations personnel were killed instantly. A single survivor, an electronic warfare officer, was thrown clear of the wreckage and rescued by another fisherman.

An investigation conducted following the incident was unable to pinpoint an exact cause. The process was hindered by the physical evidence lost when the wreckage of the MC-130 came to rest on the bottom of the ocean over two hundred feet below the surface.

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Lost that day from 1 SOS:

Major James Kirk, Pilot in Command

Captain Norman Martel, Co-Pilot

Captain Thomas Patterson, Navigator

Captain Gregory Peppers, Navigator

Technical Sergeant Stephen Blyler, Radio Operator

Technical Sergeant Barry Chumbley, Loadmaster

Technical Sergeant Gary Logan, Loadmaster

Staff Sergeant John Felton, Flight Engineer

Lost that day from the combined Special Operations component:

Senior Airman David Bingaman, US Air Force

Senior Airman Glenn Bloomer, US Air Force

Senior Airman James Bach, US Air Force

Airman First Class Kyle Wells, US Air Force

Sergeant 1st Class Danny Janecki, US Army

Staff Sergeant Patrick Estel, US Army

Staff Sergeant Davis Hagen, US Army

Sergeant Bryan Broadwater, US Army

Petty Officer 3rd Class Rodrigo Penol, Philippine Navy

Seaman Manuel Dumo, Philippine Navy

Sergeant Ewen Miller, Australian Army

Sergeant Murray Tonkin, Australian Army

Signalman Gregory Fry, Australian Army

Warrant Officer 2nd Class Dave Heywood, New Zealand Army

Sergeant Dennis Terry, New Zealand Army

Every year since, members of 1 SOS make a flight to the exact coordinates of the crash site to drop a ceremonial wreath for their fallen brothers.

We Remember You…