Local News

Memorial Service Honors Victims Of Deadly Crash At Pope Air Force Base

Posted March 23, 2004

— Ten years after a deadly F-16 crash at Pope Air Force Base, the 82nd Airborne Division on Tuesday held a memorial ceremony at Fort Bragg to remember the victims.

Twenty-four paratroopers died, and 100 others were hurt in the tragedy, which began with a mid-air collision over the base.

The accident sent the fighter skidding across the pavement and into a parked C-141 Starlifter, then into an area known as the Green Ramp filled with paratroopers.

Last year, the Air Force honored 11 people with heroism awards for risking their lives to help injured soldiers.

Tuesday's ceremony, at the 82nd Airborne's chapel, proved emotional. There was a lot of hugging and tears, soldiers weeping during the service.

The service featured songs from the 82nd Airborne chorus and a rifle salute. Boots and an inverted rifle were placed at the front of the chapel in memory of the victims.

Among those attending was Maj. Jay Nelson, a survivor of the crash that day in 1994.

"I remember everything that happened that day," Nelson said. "I heard the 'popping' noise of the pilots punching out of the aircraft and turned around over my shoulder to see the F-16 starting to tumble, and it looked like it was on fire and heading straight for me at that time.

"I remember hearing it scrape across the tarmac and impact with the C-141, and by that time, I was pretty much running. And then the fireball swept over me, and I lost consciousness soon thereafter. I remember the world turning orange when the fireball swept over me and losing consciousness and waking back up pretty much on fire trying to get myself out."

Nelson said he was burned over 45 percent of his body but suffered no orthopaedic injuries. He was sent out to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and spent 63 days there for a series of surgeries and intense recovery process.

"I spent 45 days in intensive care," Nelson said. "It was a very difficult recovery time -- sx months of physical therapy, 14 months of occupational therapy.

"There are times when I think it can't be 10 years; it's been too short. There are times when I'm waiting it for to be over. Especially around the anniversary time, it's a little more difficult. You get a little more anxious because that's when it's closer to your heart. All anniversaries are hard. The hardest thing is to think about the families and what they lost."

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