HomeNewsArticle Display

ESSO 77 Memorial

A memorial flagstone sits at the site of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker crash near Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 9, 2014.  The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.(NATO E-3A component Photo By  Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)

A memorial flagstone sits at the site of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker crash near Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 9, 2014. The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.(NATO E-3A component Photo By Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)

A memorial stone sits on base at Geilienkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 10, 2014 in remembrance of the crash of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker. The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.(NATO E-3A component Photo By  Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)

A memorial stone sits on base at Geilienkirchen Air Base, Germany, Jan. 10, 2014 in remembrance of the crash of a 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base KC-135E Stratotanker. The memorial was erected for "ESSO 77" crew members: Maj. David Fite, Maj. Mattew Laiho, Capt. Kenneth Thiele and Tech. Sgt. Richard Visintainer who perished in the crash Jan. 13, 1999.(NATO E-3A component Photo By Mr. Andre Joosten/Released)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Monday marked the 15th anniversary of the loss of a 141st Air Refueling Wing KC-135E Stratotanker that crashed in 1999 at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, Germany. According to news reports the investigation revealed the cause of the crash was the aircraft's pitch up to a near-vertical altitude and subsequent stall during a landing attempt. Four Air National Guard personnel all assigned to the 141st ARW here lost their lives in the incident. They are:

Maj. David W. Fite, 41, the KC-135 pilot from Long Beach, Calif.
Maj. Matthew F. Laiho, 40, the navigator from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Capt. Kenneth F. Thiele, 31, the co-pilot from Poughkeepsie, NY.
Tech. Sgt. Richard G. Visintainer, 48, The aircraft's boom operator from Riverside, Calif.

The day of the crash Fite, Laiho, Thiele, and Visintainer embarked on the last flight of their deployment to Germany before being scheduled to return back to Washington State the following day. They accomplished the mission of re-fueling an NE-3A Sentry aircraft and headed back to Geilenkirchen.

Upon arrival to Geilenkirchen, the weather was fair and the crew was approved for landing. Right before touchdown the crew informed the control tower they were going around again.

"The go around was initiated, but things went wrong," said Brig. Gen. Klaus-Peter Stieglitz the E-3A Component Commander at the time of the accident. "The aircraft went airborne, in an unusual steep angle, lost speed and crashed just outside the boundary of the airfield north of the runway,"
 
After 15 years, the men and women of the 141st ARW still grieve the loss of the call sign "ESSO 77" crew members.