Local News

Airmen Honored For Heroism During 1994 Pope Crash

Posted July 15, 2003

— Eleven Pope airmen were honored Monday for the courage and bravery they showed nine years ago at the air force base.

March 23, 1994, is a day Capt. Lori Katowich said she will never forget.

"I saw a soldier, his arms were completely burnt," she said.

Katowich is one of eight airmen who received the Airman's Medal. Three others were pinned with the Air Force Commendation Medal.

"They acted with bravery, valor and patriotism. The tragedy could have been worse if it wasn't for their actions," said Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-2nd Congressional District.

On that March day, an F-16 and C-130 collided above Pope Air Force Base. The F-16 hit a plane on the tarmac. The fireball from that crash killed 24 Fort Bragg soldiers on the ground and injured 100 others.

The medal recipients put their lives on the line to move ground equipment so it would not explode. They removed burning clothes from soldiers and helped evacuate the injured.

"We weren't thinking about medals when we did this," Katowich said. "I was thinking, 'What can I do to help?'"

Bobby Floyd was the commanding general at the time. He said all the wrong things happened in a catastrophic chain of events.

"It made us all look harder at our training programs -- from the people in the tower to the people in the airplanes -- all aspects of air traffic control," Floyd said.

Why did it take so long to honor these men and women?

The former commanding general said he wanted time to pass in respect to the victims' families. He also did not think it was appropriate right away, because, "The Air Force had just killed Army soldiers."

Of the 11 medal recipients, only two are still in the Air Force. Two other airmen left the military and the rest are retired.

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