Airmen killed in 2010 Osprey crash receive Distinguished Flying Cross

by Vern Evans

Two special operations airmen have received one of the military’s top honors for airborne heroism over a decade after they died in a crash-landing in Afghanistan.

Maj. Randell Voas, the pilot and flight lead of a CV-22 Osprey, and Senior Master Sgt. James Lackey, the aircraft’s flight engineer, were flying a combat mission near Qalat, Afghanistan on April 9, 2010, when a mechanical failure forced the crew to attempt an emergency landing.

Though Voas and Lackey’s expertise in bringing the Osprey down saved the lives of 16 passengers onboard, including two fellow crew members, the pair died in the crash alongside an Army Ranger and a civilian interpreter.

Fourteen years later, Air Force special operations boss Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind recognized their sacrifice by presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to the airmen’s widows, Cassie Lackey and Jill Voas, in a May 16 ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

“Major Voas and Senior Master Sergeant Lackey showcased the mastery, the grit, and the no-fail warfighting mentality we expect of all air commandos,” Bauernfeind said. “In their last fateful seconds, they swiftly acted to prevent a catastrophic loss of life.”

The Distinguished Flying Cross celebrates an extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. Since Sept. 11, 2001, only 110 air commandos have been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for their heroism, according to Bauernfeind. Lackey also received a DFC in 2002.

During the ceremony, Bauernfeind sang the praises of what he described as “two giants” of the Air Force’s past who provided “selfless service to their nation.” He spoke of their professionalism, bravery, and gallantry as Voas and Lackey made the ultimate sacrifice.

“They are loved, greatly missed, and will never be forgotten,” Bauernfeind said.

As Lackey, 45, realized the massive tiltrotor aircraft had suffered a mechanical failure, he made a split-second assessment of its systems and dumped fuel to reduce the weight onboard, according to his award citation. He made sure the landing gear was down and the fuel dump terminated before the Osprey crash-landed.

For his part, Voas, 43, was able to slow the Osprey’s descent enough to decide which part of the sand below would provide the least catastrophic touchdown. As they approached the ground, he executed a rolling landing in an attempt to reduce the severity of the impact, his award citation said.

The nose gear collapsed as it made contact with the sand. The Osprey’s massive wings and tail were severed as it hit a ditch, tumbled and caught fire. Four of the 20 onboard died.

An Air Force investigation concluded that several equipment and personnel problems had coalesced to cause the aircraft’s fatal descent.

But the efforts of both airmen greatly reduced the potential loss of life, the Air Force said. More details about their actions came to light years later, prompting the service to review whether the incident was deserving of military honors.

Their “superior airmanship … undoubtedly saved the lives of the remaining two crew members and 14 Army Rangers,” the Air Force said.

Riley Ceder is an editorial fellow at Military Times, where he covers breaking news, criminal justice and human interest stories. He previously worked as an investigative practicum student at The Washington Post, where he contributed to the ongoing Abused by the Badge investigation.

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