Four American personnel have been killed after their surveillance aircraft crashed in Djibouti.
All four occupants of the U-28A aircraft were killed on Saturday when their aircraft went down near Camp Lemonnier. The U-28 was returning from a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Horn of Africa.
Camp Lemonnier serves as home to the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a mission focused on bolstering security and stability in east Africa. The military camp also is strategically positioned near Somalia, where US special operations forces have been known to operate in the past – last month US special forces pulled off a daring raid to rescue hostages inside Somalia.
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, developed around the Pilatus PC-12 turboprop, provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in support of special operations forces.
The cause of the crash is unknown at this time. The US Air Force said it is committed to a thorough investigation, and more information will be released as it becomes available.
“Initial indications are it wasn’t shot down,” said Staff Sergeant Ryan Whitney of the public affairs office at Hurlburt Field, Florida, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Whitney told Stars & Stripes that he had no details about the crew’s specific assignment or the circumstances at the time of the single-engine aircraft’s crash.
Captain Ryan P Hall from the 319th Special Operations Squadron, Captain Nicholas S Whitlock and 1st Lieutenant Justin J Wilkens from the 34th Special Operations Squadron and Senior Airman Julian S Scholten from the 25th Intelligence Squadron died in the crash.
Hall, 30, was a U-28A pilot on his seventh deployment. He had been assigned to the 319th SOS at Hurlburt Field since 2007 and had more than 1 300 combat flight hours.
Whitlock, 29, was also a U-28A pilot and was on his fifth deployment. He entered the Air Force in 2006, receiving his commission through the Officer Training School. He had been assigned to the 319th SOS and then to the 34th SOS at Hurlburt Field since 2008 and had more than 800 combat flight hours.
Wilkens, 26, was a combat systems officer on his third deployment. He had been assigned to the 34th SOS at Hurlburt Field since April 2011 and had more than 400 combat hours.
Scholten, 26, was a mission systems operator assigned to the 25th IS at Hurlburt Field since 2009. He had more than 600 combat hours in six different airframes and was on his third deployment.
On December 13 last year, an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle crashed at an international airport in the Republic of Seychelles.
The Reaper programme is managed by the Aeronautical Systems Centre at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Air Force said it was investigating the cause of that crash.