Pilots fly over WWII crash site in Utah desert

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Pilots from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings honored fallen World War II veterans with an F-16 flyover above Loa, Utah, Memorial Day. 

Loa, located in Wayne County, lies outside the site of a crash in July 1943, when an AT-18 bomber came apart midair over the remote Utah desert during a flight from California to Colorado, killing all six crewmembers.

Lt. Col. Chris Robinson, 419th FW pilot, and Capt. Michael Wierenga, 388th FW pilot, performed the flyover as part of a ceremony to unveil a monument in honor of the crewmembers.

“I volunteered to take part in this flyover,” Robinson said. “It’s important to honor these service members and their families for their sacrifice to our great nation.”

Kade Brown, a land surveyor in Central Valley, Utah, headed the effort to build a monument after learning it was his family who discovered the wreckage in October 1943 while herding cattle across the desert.

Brown said the ceremony, which featured a 21-gun salute and remarks from family members of the deceased, was an emotional event for the roughly 500 people who attended.

“This story has been part of our community for more than 70 years and the ceremony was sort of a closure for some of these families,” Brown said. “This is something that won’t be forgotten.”

Wierenga, who coordinated the flyover, said he was happy to take time out of his holiday to support the small-town event. 

“We have to remember the foundation these men set for us, especially those who served in World War II,” Wierenga said. “I felt some pride in making this flyover happen for them.”

The fallen crewmembers were Maj. Paul E. Spence; 1st Lt. Leonard A. Keyes, Jr.; 2nd Lt. Orin L. Mock; Staff Sgt. Allen C. Hebert; Sgt. Charles F. Royse; and Capt. Robert D. Spitzer.