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U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Steven Plumhoff, Major, USAF (Fallen)March 11, 1970 – November 23, 2003
Air Force Major Plumhoff was assigned to the 58th Operations Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 58th is a training wing for pilots and crews in the Air Force’s special operations field. The service performs various covert, rescue and other missions overseas. The wing assists domestically with search and rescues. Plumhoff was serving as pilot onboard an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter conducting combat operations for ‘Operation Mountain Resolve’ when it crashed nine miles east of Bagram Air Base. A compressor problem caused one of the two engines on the Pave Low to stall, leaving it with one engine operating and too much weight to carry in the thin mountain air. He attempted to jettison the auxiliary tanks without success and then the other engine stalled while an emergency landing was being attempted. 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.
Steven graduated from Somerville High School in 1988 and had dreams of either writing fiction or flying helicopters. He opted for helicopters after being accepted into the Air Force Academy from where he graduated in 1992. He began his pilot training at the old Reese Air Force Base near Lubbock and served at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, before his first assignment at Kirtland, in 1995, for further training. After Kirtland, Plumhoff served in the Air Force’s elite special operations branch, first at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and later at Royal Air Force Station, Mildenhall, England. He worked his way up Air Force duties and ranks, starting as a Pave Low co-pilot and becoming a group safety officer, one of the most important duties in preventing accidents. In 1999, as NATO aircraft bombed Serbia to force Serb troops out of Kosovo, Plumhoff helped organize search-and-rescue operations that saved two U.S. pilots, including one from a downed F-117A stealth fighter jet from Holloman Air Force Base. In 2001 he returned to Kirtland. Steven was deployed from Kirtland in mid-October on a 60-day mission overseas and was to be back by Christmas. Even in the service’s elite group, colleagues said Plumhoff stood out. He kept himself in tip-top physical shape and strived to know something about almost everything. He was a top Pave Low pilot, computer guru and sports trivia master. He also loved hockey and music. Details mattered to him. No one could match the shine of his combat boots – it was his trademark. For being so extraordinary, Plumhoff remained well liked by everyone around him; well-liked and respected. But it was his ability to do low night flights to deploy special operations troops which brought him respect from his peers. Steven’s favorite saying was “No worries, it’s all good.”
He is survived by his wife, Yvette, and young son.
Steven was buried on January 21, 2004. An honor guard preceded a horse-drawn caisson containing a single flag-draped coffin with the remains of the five servicemen killed in the crash; Air Force Maj Plumhoff, Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Walkup Jr, Air Force Tech Sgt. Howard Walters, Army Sgt. Major Phillip Albert, and Air Force Tech Sgt. William Kerwood. Because their remains were commingled, the five received a single burial. All five names appear on a single tombstone.
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