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.
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.
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…
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our Veteran Editorial by becoming a SOFREP subscriber. Click here to get 3 months of full ad-free access for only $1