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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘They were dedicated to the mission’: Family, friends to gather Wednesday at Fairchild on anniversary of Kyrgyzstan crash

Mark Tyler Voss’ ambition in life came as a bit of a surprise to his family when he hit eighth grade.

“We were looking at high school courses, and we said, ‘What do you want to do?’ ” Voss’ mother, Marcy, said. “He said, ‘I want to go the Air Force Academy.’ “

The family hadn’t had a military veteran since Marcy Voss’ father served in World War II. But while at the Academy as an undergraduate pilot trainee, Tyler Voss – friends knew him by his middle name – earned the highest training scores in his class. He was trained to fly the KC-135, and later stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, achieving the rank of captain.

Voss, 27, was the pilot on Shell 77, the call sign of a tanker that crashed in the mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan on this day 10 years ago. Today, Marcy Voss and her husband, Wayne; along with family members of Tech. Sgt. Herman “Tre” Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, California; and Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, of Spokane, will gather at the base to mark the anniversary of the crash.

It’s a day former base commander Col. Brian Newberry, retired and living in Spokane, remembers well. An executive officer called Newberry early that morning from Spain to tell him he’d heard a KC-135, based at the transit center in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, had crashed.

“I didn’t know who, but I knew we had lost a tanker, and I knew that it was my unit,” Newberry, who still is brought to tears by memory of that May morning, said Tuesday.

Voss was piloting the plane that afternoon, and Pinckney, known to friends as “Tori,” was the co-pilot. Mackey was operating the boom, used to refuel aircraft midflight.

Pinckney had just given birth to a son a few months before the crash with her husband, Rich Pinckney, who was also a tanker pilot. Her family described her as a hard worker who had her eyes set beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

“She never wavered from what she wanted to do,” her mother, Michelle Castro, told the newspaper in 2021. “She wanted to fly and be an astronaut.”

Mackey was a 12-year veteran of the Air Force at the time of the crash, and had also just become a father of a baby girl, his family told the Bakersfield Californian in 2013. The base’s Airman Leadership School was named for him in August 2021.

Newberry knew all three aboard the plane. Pinckney had been taking extra turns in the flight simulator during her pregnancy to remain prepared when deployed, the former commander said. Though he didn’t have much time with Mackey, during a conversation the boom operator had told Newberry how happy he was to be flying again after another assignment on the ground.

“Tankers will do everything to be there,” Newberry said. “That is the greatest testament of all to the Shell 77 heroes. I don’t use the term ‘heroes’ lightly.”

An investigation later revealed a malfunction in flight controls that caused the KC-135 to experience what is known as a “Dutch roll,” when the plane rocks from side to side. Eventually, the rocking became so severe that the tail separated from the tanker and it fell from the sky at high speeds, exploding about 11 minutes after takeoff.

Newberry would later listen to the audio recordings of the flight. The crew of Shell 77 embodied the spirit of the Air Force, of leaving no fellow service member behind, he said.

“For 10 minutes and 50 seconds, they were dedicated to the mission,” Newberry said. “They kept fighting to get downrange, to fuel aircraft.”

A year after the crash, Fairchild dedicated a monument to the three service members killed in Kyrgyzstan. Newberry said it was important to have a permanent place to honor the crew of heroes.

“I needed to have a memorial service, so we could start healing again,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tyler Voss’ friends in the Air Force stepped in to pick up his family. Voss had been working with an airman named Matt Perroux on some upgrades to an RV-8 aircraft stored at Felts Field, Marcy Voss said. The pair didn’t quite finish those upgrades before Tyler Voss was sent overseas.

After the crash, Perroux worked with another colleague, Manny Ochoa, to not only finish the upgrades to the plane Voss had asked for, but finish the plane inside and out, his mother said.

“They made sure it was airworthy, and then they flew down to Texas and gave it to us,” she said.

Marcy and Wayne Voss are staying in Spokane with friends they’d made in the Air Force after their son’s crash. That’s what’s struck Marcy Voss about the way the military community has responded – the kindness of those who knew her son and honor the sacrifice he and his crew made on that day 10 years ago.

“The fact that they are still holding this memorial, and honoring the crew of Shell 77, it just deeply touches our heart,” she said. “That love is felt on a deep level.”