Shell 77 Airmen who paid ultimate sacrifice are remembered, honored at AAFB

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kayla Christenson
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 97th Air Mobility Wing honored three fallen Airmen who died in a KC-135 Stratotanker crash 10 years ago with a 5k run and memorial ceremony at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, May 3, 2023.

On May 3, 2013, a KC-135 with the call sign “Shell 77” crashed six miles south of Chaldovar, Kyrgyz Republic. The crew departed from the transit center at the installation formerly known as Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic, on a combat aerial refueling mission. The aircraft exploded in flight, killing Capt. Mark Tyler Voss, Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, and Tech. Sgt. Herman Mackey III.

“We pay tribute to three truly exceptional airmen who served with a level of heroism and a level of professionalism that cannot be adequately articulated through mere words,” said Col. Blaine Baker, 97th AMW commander. “It's only fitting on the ten year anniversary of the Shell 77 tragedy that we take time to stop, reflect, remember, and revere our sister and brothers in arms. It is perhaps even more symbolic that we do so at Altus Air Force Base in Mobility's hometown, where Tyler, Tori and Trey first learned their skillful craft and formed their precious, sacred bonds of the mobility warrior.”

More than 30 Airmen and family members attended the memorial. During the ceremony, the Blue Knights Honor Guard presented the colors, a KC-135 completed a flyover and friends of the fallen spoke.

Maj. Cary Reeves, 97th Operations Group chief of training, knew all three fallen Airmen aboard Shell 77.

“From the time we were called on that Friday afternoon and we were told who we had lost, through the months to follow, every time we stepped into that squadron, it was a painful experience,” he said. “Traces of them were everywhere. We grew closer as a squadron as we worked to bear the loss together, and more importantly, we worked to live up to the legacy Tyler, Tori and Trey left us. We were kinder, we were closer knit, more appreciative of our families and their sacrifices and we hit the books harder.”

Reeves added that, while the Shell 77 crash was a tragedy, he is grateful for the lessons that were learned as a result.

“Today we look back and can critique the loss of Shell 77 with the benefit of new knowledge, streamlined flight planning guidance, improved training, corrected preflight actions, and better procedures that we owe to their sacrifice,” he said. “They had none of that available to them. The fact that they kept a mechanically defective aircraft flying as long as they did is a testament to their skill and discipline.”