ARIA

Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft

Worldwide Support of Space and Earth Programs for 35 Years

ARIA 328 Remembered
May 6, 2006

6 MAY 1981 WAS A DAY NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN TODAY – 25 YEARS LATER. AN ARIA AIRCRAFT WAS ABOUT TO DEPART ON A TRAINING MISSION FROM WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB. IT WAS LIKE SO MANY OTHER ROUTINE TRAINING MISSIONS PLANNED TO UPGRADE FLIGHT CREWS AND SPECIAL INSTRUMENTATION OPERATORS -- A COMMON PRACTICE -- WITH ONE MAJOR EXCEPTION TO BEING ROUTINE -- THIS FLIGHT WOULD INCLUDE THE PRESENCE OF TWO SPOUSES. THE WIVES OF MAJOR EMILLIO AND CAPTAIN FONKE WERE ABOARD.

THE SECAF HAD AUTHORIZED SUCH FLIGHTS WITH WIVES ON A LIMITED BASIS – TO PROMOTE THE FAMILY IN AIR FORCE LIFE STYLE, AND TO INTRODUCE FAMILY MEMBERS TO THEIR SPOUSES’ FLYING MISSION RESPONSIBILITIES.

BUT --- AS WE ALL KNOW --- THIS TRAINING FLIGHT RESULTED IN A MAJOR AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT WHERE ALL 21 OCCUPANTS PERISHED DUE TO AIRCRAFT MECHANICAL FAILURE.
INVESTIGATING AIRCRAFT ACCIDENTS, WHERE HUMAN CAUSALITIES ARE INVOLVED, IS NEVER A PLEASANT EXPERIENCE. I FOUND THAT OUT, AS I WAS THE FIRST AIR FORCE MEMBER TO ARRIVE AT THE CRASH SCENE.

I WAS FURTHER DESIGNATED THE INTERIM ACCIDENT BOARD PRESIDENT. I HAVE VIVID MEMORIES OF WALKING THE ACCIDENT GROUNDS – ATTEMPTING TO UNCOVER THE ACCIDENT CAUSES – AND DEAL WITH THE TRAGIC LOSS OF LIFE. I ALSO RECALL THE OUTPOURING OF SENTIMENT AND ASSISTANCE RENDERED BY THE 4950th TEST WING PERSONNEL TO THE SURVIVING FAMILIES AND DEPENDANTS. THAT SENTIMENT FORMED THE NUCLEUS OF WHY WE GATHER HERE TODAY. THAT SENTIMENT RESULTED IN THE DEDICATION OF THE ARIA 328 MEMORIAL HERE AT THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM -- THAT SENTIMENT RESULTED IN THE FORMATION OF THE ARIA 328 MEMORIAL FOUNDATION AND STEERING COMMITTEE

THE LATER OF WHICH HAS ACTIVELY PURSUED THE CREATION OF THE ARIA 328 MEMORIAL IN WALKERSVILLE MARYLAND – ADJACENT TO THE CRASH SITE. THIS MEMORIAL WILL BE DEDICATED OFFICIALLY A YEAR FROM TODAY --- WITH YOUR MONETARY SUPPORT.

SO --- FROM THE ANGUISH AND REMORSE RESULTING FROM THE 6 MAY 1981 AIRCRAFT LOSS, WE HAVE PROUDLY DEMONSTRATED THAT WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN OUR FALLEN BRETHREN.

MAY WE REDEDICATE OUR EFFORTS BY SUPPORTING THE WALKERSVILLE MEMORIAL AND BY GATHERING ANNUALLY TO HONOR ARIA 328 AND ITS PRECIOUS CARGO.

THANK YOU..
PETER W. ODGERS
MAJOR GENERAL, USAF RETIRED

    After completion of the reading, Christopher Gratch, the brother of Mission Coordinator Charles Edward Gratch (328), presented the wreath to the ocean.

    The fellowship that was shared is a testament to the bond that ties the ARIA alumni. We celebrated in stories the lives of those who perished on 6 May, 1981. It was a special time and will forever be cherished.