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106th Rescue Wing, North Country Veterans recall crash of 40 years ago

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Cheran Cambridge
  • 106th Rescue Wing

KEESEVILLE, N.Y., (June 14, 2018) - On June 13, 1978, an HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” rescue helicopter assigned to the 106th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group crashed into Trembleau Mountain outside of Keeseville, N.Y., killing seven Airmen.

Forty years later, current and former members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, the successor to the 1978 unit, gathered at VFW Post 1505 in Keeseville, to remember the men killed in the crash of “Jolly 85”.

“We remember the crew of Jolly 85 and their sacrifice, but know their memories and actions are with us everyday,” said Col Shawn P. Fitzgerald, Vice Commander of the 106th Rescue Wing.
Two days of events sponsored by the VFW Post 1505 were held on June 12 and 13 to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash.

The crew of Jolly 85 were returning to their base at Westhampton Beach, N.Y. after training at Plattsburgh Air Force Base. After encountering inclement weather, the aircraft turned back to Plattsburgh, but in the low visibility, the HH-3E crashed into the Trembleau Mountain just below its peak. 

The members that were lost is the crash were; 
Captain John D. Sfeir, Aircraft Commander
Captain John W. Kleven, Co-Pilot
Master Sgt. Allan C. Snyder, Pararescueman
Technical Sgt. Ronald H. Allen, Flight Mechanic
Technical Sgt. Ralf J. Tomassone Jr., Crew Chief
SSgt Sgt. Scott B. Hursh, Pararescueman 
Staff Sgt. David D. Lambert, Pararescueman

The two days of memorial events allowed family members of those killed to visit Trembleau Mountain to see the crash site where a stone commemorating the crash was laid. A service on June 13 commemorated the crash.
The memorial stone was placed on the mountain in the projected direction of the HH-3E. On a clear day a visitor can stand at the stone and see the Plattsburgh Air Force Base runway where the crew was headed when they crashed.

An additional memorial stone was placed in front of the VFW 1505 with the names of the fallen members. VFW 1505 also received a plaque with descriptions of each member. 

Although a dignified arrival was done at the 106th Rescue Wing for the fallen members in 1978, no memorial was held at that time. Former Pararescueman Master Sgt. Jay Jinks starting planning the memorial for the Jolly 85 members last year. 
“This memorial and site visit was long overdue. Although the past and present pararescuemen have honored the crew of Jolly 85 since 1979, this is the first time we’ve visited the crash site.” Jinks said. “We ran the Newsday Marathon from 1979 till the early 90's in honor of Jolly 85. Then we started gathering for dinners closer to the anniversary date of the crash. We also came together on Veteran’s Day going to both Long Island National Cemeteries where we not only remembered the Jolly 85 crew, but other PJ's and members of the 106 as well.”

 This was the first time they have ever planned an event this big for the Jolly 85 fallen, Jinks added.

The memorial service on June 13 lasted approximately three hours and started with an HC-130 Hercules and HH-60 Pave Hawk flyover. 

There were several speakers there from the Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to the very first Pararescueman at the wing, Retired Chief Master Sgt. Mike McManus. 

McManus spoke to the families about the mental attitude of a pararescueman. 

“On a daily basis we dance with the grim reaper when we go out to work. This is what we do,” McManus added. “Your loved ones, they loved you to death, but this is what they did and they were tough about that mentally.”

The memorial concluded with the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” 
“This song is a tribute to the seven fallen Airmen of Jolly 85,” said Retired Chief Master Sgt. Tim Malloy, a former pararecueman NCOIC.

40 years ago during dignified arrival of these seven caskets at Suffolk County Air National Guard Base, as if on cue, a rainbow appeared over the runway during the service. It has become a symbol of warmth and reflection for many of the Jolly 85 families, Malloy added.