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United States Helicopter Crew
Killed In Afghanistan - November 2003
Casualties of Afghan Campaign Honored
Five Were Killed In Copter Crash
By Leef Smith
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Thursday, January 22, 2004

The flag-draped coffin was borne by a horse-drawn caisson and followed by mourners who made their way through Arlington National Cemetery yesterday to honor four airmen and a soldier who died when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan in November.

The men were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, working together in an MH-53M helicopter when it fell about seven miles east of Bagram Air Base. Nearby villages reported that the helicopter crashed near a riverbed and caught fire. Officials said mechanical failure might have been to blame.

Killed in the November 23, 2003, crash were Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff, 33, of Neshanic Station, New Jersey, and three other airmen, Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, of Millville, New Jersey, Technical Sergeant Howard A. Walters, 33, of Port Huron, Michigan, and Technical Sergeant William J. Kerwood, 37, of Houston, Missouri.

Also killed was Army Sergeant Major Philip R. Albert, 41, of Terryville, Connecticut.

Yesterday, the men's remains were interred with full honors in a common grave whose headstone will be marked with each of their names. The service included a flyover by an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter -- the largest, most advanced line of helicopters in the Air Force's inventory -- from Hurlburt Field, Florida.

A military band and color guard led the procession of mourners, who were bundled in thick coats to ward off the morning's frigid temperatures. Among them was James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force.

Walkup, a flight engineer with the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, was honored in a memorial ceremony December 30, 2003, when his wife, Staff Sergeant Carissa Walkup, received the flag that covered his coffin, his Purple Heart and a medal for his service to his country. The couple met at Luke Field in Arizona, where she is stationed, and they would have celebrated their third wedding anniversary last month. Walters and Kerwood were also assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron.

Walters, a 15-year veteran, served in the Persian Gulf War. Later, while serving as an aerial gunnery instructor at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, he helped rescue a lost hiker in the mountains, according to an Associated Press report.

Kerwood, an 18-year veteran, was among the first troops to deploy to Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, according to news reports. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for helping rescue a downed U.S. pilot in the former Yugoslavia in 1999.

Plumhoff, a pilot and instructor, had been stationed at Kirtland with the 58th Special Operations Wing. He volunteered for the Afghanistan mission, according to news accounts.

Albert joined the Army after high school. After 22 years in the military, he was considering retirement, but events, including the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, prompted him to stay in the military, the Associated Press reported.


Servicemen Who Perished in Chopper Buried
Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Five servicemen who died together when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan were buried together Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

An honor guard preceded a horse-drawn caisson containing a single flag-draped coffin with the remains of the five servicemen.

As family members and friends bundled against the cold looked on, a team of soldiers removed the coffin from the wagon and carried it to the burial site. A solitary drummer provided the only sound.

After the eulogy, a seven-member military guard standing yards away fired three times. As part of the ceremony, an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter like the one that went down with the servicemen aboard flew by.

The five were killed in November when their transport helicopter went down just after leaving Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, to support a military operation by the U.S.-led coalition in northeastern Afghanistan. The Pentagon said mechanical failure apparently caused the crash.

Because their remains were mixed together, the five received a single burial. All five names will appear on a single tombstone.

They are: Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr. of Millville, New Jersey; Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff of Neshanic Station, New Jersey; Air Force Technical Sergeants Howard A. Walters of Port Huron, Michigan, and William J. Kerwood of Houston, Missouri; and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert of Terryville, Connecticut.

Walkup, Walters and Kerwood were assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida; Plumhoff to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Albert to Fort Drum, New York.

Folded American flags were presented to the widows of Walkup, Plumhoff, Walters and Kerwood, and to Albert's mother.

Air Force Secretary James G. Roche was among the dozens of service members at the ceremony.


Servicemen Who Perished in Chopper Buried 
Wednesday Jan 21, 2004

Five servicemen who died together when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan were buried together Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

An honor guard preceded a horse-drawn caisson containing a single flag-draped coffin with the remains of the five servicemen.

As family members and friends bundled against the cold looked on, a team of soldiers removed the coffin from the wagon and carried it to the burial site. A solitary drummer provided the only sound.

After the eulogy, a seven-member military guard standing yards away fired three times. As part of the ceremony, an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter like the one that went down with the servicemen aboard flew by.

The five were killed in November when their transport helicopter went down just after leaving Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, to support a military operation by the U.S.-led coalition in northeastern Afghanistan. The Pentagon said mechanical failure apparently caused the crash.

Because their remains were mixed together, the five received a single burial. All five names will appear on a single tombstone.

They are: Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Walkup Jr. of Millville, N.J.; Air Force Maj. Steven Plumhoff of Neshanic Station, N.J.; Air Force Tech. Sgts. Howard A. Walters of Port Huron, Mich., and William J. Kerwood of Houston, Mo.; and Army Sgt. Maj. Phillip R. Albert of Terryville, Conn. 

Walkup, Walters and Kerwood were assigned to Hurlburt Field, Fla.; Plumhoff to Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; and Albert to Fort Drum, N.Y.

Folded American flags were presented to the widows of Walkup, Plumhoff, Walters and Kerwood, and to Albert's mother.

Air Force Secretary James G. Roche was among the dozens of service members at the ceremony.



Sunday, January 08, 2006:

On a cold January day almost two years ago, family members and friends of five Special Forces servicemen killed in an Air Force helicopter crash in Afghanistan gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for their burial, receiving folded American flags and honored by a military flyover and a seven-gun salute.

The servicemen were memorialized at the ceremony by a Chaplain, Colonel David E. Boyles, as "five brave young men who gave their lives not only for their country, but for friends and family, to keep them free."

Now, the widows of three of the men are suing defense contractors for the wrongful deaths of their husbands in the 2003 crash, which the Air Force blamed on engine failure of the MH-53M Pave Low helicopter caused in part by failure of auxiliary fuel tanks to jettison.

While not unheard of, such lawsuits in wartime are uncommon, and frequently involve sensitive information about military hardware that the government doesn't want in open court.

"These are difficult cases to win, but it is not impossible," said Randall Craft, an attorney with the Holland & Knight law firm who specializes in aviation liability issues.

According to an Air Force accident report, the Pave Low flight dubbed "Beatle 12" carrying 13 passengers and crew crashed Nov. 23, 2003, about five minutes after it lifted off from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The helicopter, which can carry up to 55 people, was part of a Special Operations "infiltration" mission in the war against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters during Operation Mountain Resolve. The aircraft was on its third sortie of the day.

A compressor problem caused one of the two engines on the Pave Low to stall, leaving it with one engine operating and far too much weight to carry in the thin mountain air. The pilots "attempted to jettison the auxiliary tanks without success" and then the other engine stalled while an emergency landing was being attempted, the Air Force concluded.

With all power lost, the helicopter fell from an altitude of about 200 feet onto an uneven river bank, rolled over and burst into flames. Eight people somehow managed to survive - but four Air Force personnel and one Army officer were killed.

Their remains were difficult to identify and were buried together at Arlington under a single tombstone bearing all five names. Those killed were: Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr. of Millville, New Jersey; Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff of Neshanic Station, New Jersey; Air Force Tech Sergeants Howard A. Walters of Port Huron, Michigan, and William J. Kerwood of Houston, Missouri; and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert of Terryville, Connecticut.

Walters, Kerwood and Walkup were all assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida. Plumhoff's home base was Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Albert was assigned to Fort Drum, New York.

Widows Melissa Walters, Kara Kerwood and Yvette LaPointe-Plumhoff have filed lawsuits in federal court in Miami accusing the Pave Low's maker, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., and two fuel tank installation and maintenance companies of negligence that led to the crash. The lawsuits seek an unspecified amount of damages.

None of the women responded to requests for comment for this article.

The Air Force accident report, which by law cannot be used as evidence in civil lawsuits, concluded that there was "insufficient written guidance" available to check on the status of the fuel tank jettison system. The lawsuits contend that Sikorsky, Lear Siegler Services Inc. and Smiths Aerospace LLC never instructed maintenance personnel to perform necessary electrical tests to assure the tanks would drop in an emergency.
"The jettison system was indispensable to the ability of the MH-53M crew to avoid a crash by rapidly reducing the helicopter's weight in the event one of the two engines failed during flight," says one of the lawsuits.

The widows also claim in their lawsuits that the tank design was faulty because it had no backup jettison system. Sikorsky, a unit of defense contractor United Technologies Corp., denies that its aircraft or maintenance schedules were to blame, saying that the Pave Low and its operation "met the standards of the state-of-the-art, scientific knowledge" and that no red flags had been raised about any defects in the fuel tanks. Sikorsky also contends that it had no control over possible "misuse" of the helicopter by the Air Force.

Lear Siegler also denied any liability. Smiths Aerospace said it has not yet confirmed whether it actually supplied the tanks on the Pave Low, but spokeswoman Jennifer Villarreal said in an e-mail that the company has begun a review of the tanks and related equipment as a result of the crash.
"To date, we have not identified any problems with this equipment," she said.

The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro Benages, has not yet set a trial date but the lawsuits have been consolidated into a single proceeding.



Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
 A horse-drawn caisson passes tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery 
January 21, 2004. The American flag-draped casket represents five fallen airmen 
and a soldier who were killed in an MH-53M helicopter accident in Afghanistan 
on November 23, 2003 

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
U.S. Air Force Honor Guardsmen carry an American flag-draped casket at a ceremony 
held at Arlington National Cemetery January 21, 2004. The single casket represents the 
five individuals -- four airmen and one soldier -- who were killed in a MH-53M 
helicopter accident in Afghanistan on November 23, 2003.
 

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
 Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, center, salutes as the casket of five 
servicemen killed in Afghanistan is carried to graveside at Arlington National 
Cemetery, Wednesday, January 21, 2004. 

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
 A U.S Air Force Honor guardsmen cradles an American flag at Arlington 
National Cemetery January 21, 2004 during the full honors funeral for five servicemen. 

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
A military firing party fires three volleys of seven at the funeral of 
five servicemen killed in Afghanistan at Arlington National Cemetery, 
Wednesday, January 21, 2004. 

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
The next of kin of five servicemen who were killed in Afghanistan on November 23, 2003 
mourn at their graveside after they were presented flags at their joint funeral at Arlington 
National Cemetery, Wednesday, January 21, 2004. Left to right are Air Force 
Staff Sergeant Carissa Walkup, wife of Staff. Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup, Jr, 25, 
of Millville, New Jersey, Melissa Walters, wife of Technical Sergeant Howard A. Walters, 33, 
of Port Huron, Michigan, and Kara Kerwood, wife of Technical Sergeant William Kerwood, 37, 
of Houston, Missouri. Also buried with them were Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff, 33, of 
Neshanic Station, New Jersey and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert, 44, of Terryville, Connecticut.

Chopper Crew Funeral Services PHOTO
Unidentified family members embrace each other as they mourn in front of a casket during a full honors funeral ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery January 21, 2004.


WALTERS, HOWARD ARLEN
TSG US AIR FORCE
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/23/1993 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 12/07/1969
DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8121

PLUMHOFF, STEVEN
MAJ US AIR FORCE
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/23/1993 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 03/11/1970
DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8121

WALKUP, THOMAS ALVA JR
SSG US AIR FORCE
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 12/23/1993 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 04/06/1978
DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8121

WALKUP, THOMAS A JR
SSGT  US AIR FORCE
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 02/01/1996 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 04/06/1978
DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 12/30/2003
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8124

KERWOOD, WILLIAM JO
MSG US AIR FORCE
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/23/1993 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 07/12/1966
DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8121

ALBERT, PHILLIP ROBERT
SGM   US ARMY
VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/23/1993 - 11/23/2003
DATE OF BIRTH: 08/21/1962
DATE OF DEATH: 12/23/2003
DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 60  SITE 8121




Photo By Holly, August 2005


Posted: 21 January 2004  Updated: 25 January 2004 Updated: 29 June 2004  Updated: 23 July 2004 Updated: 26 December 2005
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