Howard Arlen Walters
Sergeant, United States Air Force
a contemporary press report:
Howard A. Walters, a 15-year veteran, served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Later, while stationed at Kirtland as an aerial gunnery instructor, he helped rescue a lost hiker in the mountains of New Mexico
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Port Huron airman killed in Afghan crash recalled for love of flying
An Air Force commando from Port Huron who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan was remembered by relatives for his love of flying and desire to serve his country.
Technical Sergeant Howard A. Walters, 33, an aerial gunner, was among five service members killed when an Air Force special operations helicopter crashed on Sunday, the military said Wednesday. He leaves behind a wife and four daughters.
"He just always wanted to go into the Air Force," his father, James Walters, of Manton, said Wednesday night.
Howard Walters enlisted after graduating from Port Huron High School and served in Operation Desert Storm. He was recently serving in Africa, James Walters said, and received orders shortly before his death that sent him to Afghanistan.
"My brother was in the Air Force. I guess he admired that," James Walters said, adding, "My dad flew small planes."
Linda Walters, wife of James Walters' brother Michael, said her nephew loved his career in the military. She last saw him in February and he spoke with her husband, who served in the Air Force from 1965-69, about a love of flying.
"He was just a very sweet boy growing up. Always thought of others. ... He always talked about flying," said Linda Walters, who lives with her husband in Nashville.
Howard Walters' wife, Melissa, and four daughters -- Kalie, Breanna, Samantha and Grace -- live in Florida, home of Hurlburt Base, headquarters of the Air Force Special Operations Command. Walters' mother, Patricia Riedel, lives in Port Huron.
Walters and two others killed in the crash were assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 16th Special Operations Wing: Technical Sergeant William J. Kerwood, 37, a flight engineer from Houston, Missouri, and Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, a flight engineer from Millville, New Jersey; Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff, 33, pilot of the MH-53 Pave Low from Neshanic Station, New Jersey, and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert, 41, of Terryville, Connecticut, also died. Plumhoff was with the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and Albert was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Drum, New York.
Hurlburt, headquarters of the Air Force Special Operations Command, now has lost five airmen in Afghanistan. Two crew members were killed when their overloaded MC-130 Combat Talon II crashed shortly after taking off from a remote air strip on June 12, 2002. An Army Green Beret soldier also died in that crash.
Two Hurlburt airman also were injured in Sunday's crash near Kabul. Air Force officials declined to release their names for security and privacy reasons.
Plans for a possible memorial service for Walters in Michigan hadn't been set Wednesday night. A private memorial service is being planned at Hurlburt.
Pentagon officials said engine failure rather than enemy action may have caused Sunday's crash about seven miles east of Bagram Air Base. Nearby villagers said the helicopter hit near a riverbed around sunset and caught fire.
"The entire 16th Special Operations Wing is experiencing great sorrow over the loss we've suffered," said Col. O.G. Mannon, the wing's commanding officer.
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On a cold January day almost two years ago, family members and friends of five Special Forces servicemen killed in an Air Force helicopter crash in Afghanistan gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for their burial, receiving folded American flags and honored by a military flyover and a seven-gun salute.
The servicemen were memorialized at the ceremony by a Chaplain, Colonel David E. Boyles, as "five brave young men who gave their lives not only for their country, but for friends and family, to keep them free."
Now, the widows of three of the men are suing defense contractors for the wrongful deaths of their husbands in the 2003 crash, which the Air Force blamed on engine failure of the MH-53M Pave Low helicopter caused in part by failure of auxiliary fuel tanks to jettison.
While not unheard of, such lawsuits in wartime are uncommon, and frequently involve sensitive information about military hardware that the government doesn't want in open court.
"These are difficult cases to win, but it is not impossible," said Randall Craft, an attorney with the Holland & Knight law firm who specializes in aviation liability issues.
According to an Air Force accident report, the Pave Low flight dubbed "Beatle 12" carrying 13 passengers and crew crashed Nov. 23, 2003, about five minutes after it lifted off from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
The helicopter, which can carry up to 55 people, was part of a Special Operations "infiltration" mission in the war against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters during Operation Mountain Resolve. The aircraft was on its third sortie of the day.
A compressor problem caused one of the two engines on the Pave Low to stall, leaving it with one engine operating and far too much weight to carry in the thin mountain air. The pilots "attempted to jettison the auxiliary tanks without success" and then the other engine stalled while an emergency landing was being attempted, the Air Force concluded.
With all power lost, the helicopter fell from an altitude of about 200 feet onto an uneven river bank, rolled over and burst into flames. Eight people somehow managed to survive - but four Air Force personnel and one Army officer were killed.
Their remains were difficult to identify and were buried together at Arlington under a single tombstone bearing all five names. Those killed were: Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr. of Millville, New Jersey; Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff of Neshanic Station, New Jersey; Air Force Tech Sergeants Howard A. Walters of Port Huron, Michigan, and William J. Kerwood of Houston, Missouri; and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert of Terryville, Connecticut.
Walters, Kerwood and Walkup were all assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida. Plumhoff's home base was Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Albert was assigned to Fort Drum, New York.
Widows Melissa Walters, Kara Kerwood and Yvette LaPointe-Plumhoff have filed lawsuits in federal court in Miami accusing the Pave Low's maker, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., and two fuel tank installation and maintenance companies of negligence that led to the crash. The lawsuits seek an unspecified amount of damages.
None of the women responded to requests for comment for this article.
The Air Force accident report, which by law
cannot be used as evidence in civil lawsuits, concluded that there was
"insufficient written guidance" available to check on the status of the
fuel tank jettison system. The lawsuits contend that Sikorsky, Lear Siegler
Services Inc. and Smiths Aerospace LLC never instructed maintenance personnel
to perform necessary electrical tests to assure the tanks would drop in
The widows also claim in their lawsuits that the tank design was faulty because it had no backup jettison system. Sikorsky, a unit of defense contractor United Technologies Corp., denies that its aircraft or maintenance schedules were to blame, saying that the Pave Low and its operation "met the standards of the state-of-the-art, scientific knowledge" and that no red flags had been raised about any defects in the fuel tanks. Sikorsky also contends that it had no control over possible "misuse" of the helicopter by the Air Force.
Lear Siegler also denied any liability. Smiths
Aerospace said it has not yet confirmed whether it actually supplied the
tanks on the Pave Low, but spokeswoman Jennifer Villarreal said in an e-mail
that the company has begun a review of the tanks and related equipment
as a result of the crash.
The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District
Court Judge Ursula Ungaro Benages, has not yet set a trial date but the
lawsuits have been consolidated into a single proceeding.
Posted: 23 July 2004 Updated: 13 May 2008
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008