Military IDs N.C.-based airmen killed in Afghan crash
Posted July 19, 2009 11:37 a.m. EDT
Updated July 20, 2009 6:21 a.m. EDT
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — A Charlotte native was among two Seymour Johnson Air Force Base-based officers killed when an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed in Afghanistan Friday.
Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minn., and Capt. Mark R. McDowell, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died in the crash, military officials said. They had been flying for several hours, providing air support to ground troops in the Ghazni Province when their plane went down around 3:15 a.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Both men were assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, which deployed in April for a four-month tour of duty.
“This is a very deep personal loss that we've taken. These are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers,” said Col. Mark Kelly, 4th Fighter Wing commander, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
McDowell is a native of Charlotte and attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He leaves behind his father in Adamsville, mother in Clemson, S.C., and grandparents in Sanford.
His wife is also in the Air Force, serving on a deployment to Iraq. The couple would have been married for two years this Thanksgiving.
Gilbert McDowell, a pastor in Sanford, said he was proud of his grandson, because everywhere he was stationed, he joined a church and taught Sunday school.
Kelly said thousands of N.C.-based soldiers were among the ground troops McDowell and Gramith were supporting.
“We have literally thousands of Marines from Camp Lejeune just down the road that are dispersed across the Helman province, down south. We have thousands and thousands of soldiers from Fort Bragg that are operating in the east, so this is a very deep North Carolina protection event,” Kelly said.
The cause of the crash hasn't been released, but military officials have said it was from non-hostile action. F-15s fly in pairs, so another jet was alongside the plane during the crash.
A board of officers in Afghanistan is investigating the crash, military officials said. A safety investigation normally takes 30 to 45 days, but since this crash happened in a combat zone, the investigation is expected to take longer.
The U.S. military hasn't released more information about the crash, but Afghan authorities told The Associated Press that the plane went down in the Nawur district of Ghazni province in central Afghanistan, a peaceful area populated by the ethnic Hazara minority.
Mohammed Qasim Naziri, the deputy district chief, said the crash site was between two villages in a desert surrounded by mountains about 20 miles south of the town of Nawur. Kelly described the terrain as unforgiving.
He said local people notified police of the crash, but by the time authorities reached the site, U.S. troops had surrounded the area and barred Afghan authorities from approaching the wreckage.
The last similar accident involving Seymour Johnson aircraft was on April 7, 2003.
The bodies of Gramith and McDowell were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., Sunday.
Their deaths brought to 50 the number of international service members killed in Afghanistan in July, already the deadliest month of the war for NATO forces.