Family, friends mourn 8 airmen killed in Osprey crash in Japan

by Tommy Grant

Tech. Sgt. Zach Lavoy loved medicine.

As a child, his mother, Gabriela Lavoy, would quiz him on bones while studying for her nursing job, she told Air Force Times in a recent interview. Later on, the pair bonded over stories about treating their patients’ tricky injuries.

Gabriela had looked forward to those chats at Christmas, when her son would have visited her new home in Texas. But this year will be different.

Tech. Sgt. Lavoy died Nov. 29 when the CV-22 Osprey aircraft he was flying on crashed off the southern coast of Japan during a training exercise, killing all eight troops onboard.

Among the downed crew were Osprey pilots Maj. Jeff Hoernemann, Maj. Luke Unrath and Capt. Terry Brayman; medical personnel Maj. Eric Spendlove and Tech. Sgt. Zach Lavoy; flight engineers Staff Sgt. Jake Turnage and Senior Airman Kody Johnson; and airborne linguist Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher.

The accident, which remains under investigation, is the deadliest Air Force mishap since 2018, and the fourth fatal Osprey crash in two years. Twenty U.S. troops have died in Osprey accidents since March 2022.

A sweeping, multinational search effort has recovered the bodies of seven airmen so far. Spendlove remained missing as of Tuesday. The military will turn its attention to salvaging the remaining aircraft debris after all of the airmen are found.

The deaths have shaken the Air Force’s close-knit CV-22 community and prompted the U.S. military to ground its entire fleet of hundreds of V-22 aircraft across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. House lawmakers are also calling for the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, to probe the Osprey’s safety record.

Tor Krautter, Galliher’s stepfather, told the Berkshire Eagle that the U.S. military should have grounded the Ospreys after three U.S. Marines died in a crash off the coast of Australia in August.

“The message that we want to get out to anyone that’s willing to listen, is, ‘How many more of our service members need to die on those damn planes?’” Krautter said.

Maj. Jeff Hoernemann, 32

Hoernemann was a CV-22 instructor pilot and the chief of weapons and tactics at the 21st Special Operations Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

He began his journey to military service when he moved from the Minneapolis suburb of Andover, Minnesota, to the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at North Dakota State University. There, Hoernemann earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2014 as well as his officer commission, and entered active duty in March 2015.

He trained to fly the CV-22 and proved himself as a passionate, competent aviator, the Air Force said.

Hoernemann was a humble, “gentle giant” at the schoolhouse, with a passion for learning and flying, said Andrew, a former instructor in the CV-22 community. Air Force Times agreed to withhold his last name because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

When Hoernemann graduated from Osprey training, Andrew said, his sense of humor shone through in a speech that highlighted how small the Air Force’s CV-22 community is.

Hoernemann held jobs at the 8th Special Operations Squadron and 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and deployed to Afghanistan multiple times as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

At the 21st SOS, “Jeff was the unit’s subject matter expert on CV-22B employment and shouldered the responsibility for developing new tactics, techniques and procedures,” the Air Force said.

His military honors include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal and the air and space commendation and achievement medals, among others.

“His character was the benchmark of officership in the United States Air Force,” 21st Special Operations Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Tyler Oldham said in a statement. “Jeff was the best of us. His selflessness and leadership through example have left enduring marks upon the culture and values of the members of Air Force Special Operations Command.”

To know Hoernemann was to love him, the airman’s wife, Jess Boozer, said Dec. 4 in a public tribute on Facebook. The couple had been together for more than eight years.

“If I knew Wednesday morning when you left for work would be the last time I saw you, I would have hugged you tighter and never let you go,” Boozer wrote. “You will always be my best friend and the greatest love of my life.”

Maj. Luke Unrath, 34

Unrath served as a CV-22 pilot and flight commander at the 21st SOS, the Air Force said.

A native of Riverside, California, outside Los Angeles, Unrath earned his commission through California Polytechnic State University’s ROTC program and joined active duty in 2014.

He first parlayed his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering into a job as an engineer at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base (now Space Force Base), which launches satellites into orbit and tests nuclear missiles. But, seeking the open skies instead, he took his first steps toward becoming an Osprey pilot.

Unrath arrived at Yokota, his first operational base as a CV-22 pilot, in March 2022.

“Luke served as a liaison officer for Special Operations Command-Pacific, where his leadership and visionary efforts were critical to the successful coordination and execution of over 20 operations, activities and investments throughout the [region],” the Air Force said.

He was a “natural leader” with a “cool, calm demeanor and high standards,” said Oldham, the squadron commander.

“People gravitated toward him,” Oldham said. “His steady hands and quick wit paired well and made for a trusted and well-respected aviator.”

Unrath earned the Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air and Space Commendation Medal, Air and Space Achievement Medal and other awards while in uniform.

He found the “perfect wife and helpmate” in his spouse Brooke, whom he married in 2021, the airman’s parents, Gregg and Nora Unrath, said in an emailed statement. Unrath was also close with his older sister, Ashley Pasqualetti, and his fellow triplets, Scott Unrath and Carly Ewing.

“It would be impossible for us to express in a few words what an amazing son Luke was. Even though we raised him in faith, he taught us so much [about] what it is to live a Christ-centered life,” the airman’s parents. “He chose this path and career because he wanted to help people. … We are grateful and humbled to be his parents.”

Tech. Sgt. Zach Lavoy, 33

Lavoy served as a medical operations flight chief at the 1st Special Operations Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, the Air Force said.

He grew from a sports-loving, intelligent child into an aspiring medic who felt the path to helping others ran through the military, his mother Gabriela Lavoy said.

He left his hometown of Oviedo, Florida, outside Orlando, to enlist in the Air Force in 2013. He received multiple accolades as a medic, as well as a degree in allied health sciences from the Community College of the Air Force in 2022.

As the medical operations flight chief, Lavoy created emergency response plans for commands around the globe and drew up evacuation protocols for injured troops. He also worked at the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, and deployed to Qatar in 2016 in support of U.S. operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

He earned the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air and Space Achievement Medal and Meritorious Unit Award, the service said.

“Zach was a compassionate medic with a steadfast devotion to supporting the needs of those around him,” 1st Special Operations Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Christopher Pellegrino said in a statement. “He never stopped smiling and genuinely cared for his teammates. Zach was quick to make friends and sought out new experiences, often accompanied by his dog, truck, and friends.”

Gabriela Lavoy often worried about her son’s safety. When it came time for him to re-enlist, she asked him to return home. But the military was his calling, she said: “He was going to do it until he was done.”

She said she plans to lay her son to rest in Florida, where he hoped to put down roots with his fiancée, Alee Adams, after leaving the military.

Adams recounted the airman’s generosity, calm and devotion to faith in a public Facebook tribute.

“We wanted a family and to grow old together,” she wrote. “You got me the most beautiful ring and we had big, big plans. I’m heartbroken that we don’t get to see any of that come to fruition but I’d [choose] to fall in love with you again, over and over, despite this pain I feel right now.”

Staff Sgt. Jake Turnage, 25

Turnage served as a lead flight engineer and noncommissioned officer in charge of training at the 21st SOS, the Air Force said.

Turnage was raised outside of Atlanta in Kennesaw, Georgia, and graduated from Air Force boot camp in 2018. He holds a degree in aviation operations from the Community College of the Air Force.

As a special missions aviator, Turnage handled “mission management and flight planning as well as flight engineer, loadmaster and aerial gunner duties,” the Air Force said. He also managed the squadron’s training requirements for combat arms, biochemical warfare, and survival and escape protocols.

He previously worked at the 8th SOS and deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan.

“Jake was a beloved husband, brother and son, as well as a fun-loving and dedicated noncommissioned officer,” said Oldham, the 21st SOS commander. “His magnetic personality was always uplifting and lightened the load of his squadron mates. … His enthusiasm and positive attitude inspired others every day.”

Andrew, the former instructor, remembers Turnage as an eager learner who pressured himself to do well in the selective world of enlisted flying. He often volunteered around the 8th SOS and at local events at Hurlburt Field, Andrew said.

Turnage has received the Air and Space Commendation Medal, Air and Space Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Award and other honors.

He is survived by his wife, Ruye, whom he married in September.

“Here in Florida, it rained from the moment I got the news,” she said Dec. 4 on Facebook. “This morning, when I was told you were deceased, the sun finally [shone] for the first time. I know he is watching over me and making sure I am OK.”

Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher, 24

Galliher was a linguist specializing in Mandarin Chinese at a detachment of the 43rd Intelligence Squadron at Yokota, the Air Force said.

Raised in the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield, Galliher enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school in 2017. He had earned a degree in intelligence studies from CCAF and was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in east Asian studies, the service said.

Galliher was qualified to accompany aviators on the AC-130J gunship, MC-130H transport and tanker aircraft, and the CV-22. Airborne linguists translate foreign communications in flight to flag potential threats and transmit intelligence to other units.

Maj. Gilbert Summers, the commander of Galliher’s detachment, remembered him as a “devoted family man, steadfast wingman and irreplaceable airman.”

“With a ready smile, Jake brought the unit together on and off-duty through humor and an inexhaustible supply of energy, whether it was on the aircraft, in the gym or on the slopes,” Summers said in a statement. “Everywhere he went, and everyone he met, was made better for him being there.”

Galliher also worked at the 25th Intelligence Squadron at Hurlburt, the service said. He earned the Air Medal, Air and Space Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal and other honors.

He is survived by his wife, Ivy, and two sons, ages 2 years and 2 months.

“Jacob was an incredible son, brother, husband, father and friend to so many,” his family said Dec. 2. “His short life touched and made better the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, in Pittsfield, in this region and everywhere he served.”

Capt. Terry Brayman, 32

Brayman, a CV-22 aircraft commander, served as deputy chief of bilateral operations with Japan while part of the 21st SOS, the Air Force said.

A native of Pittsford in western New York, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering from Ohio State University and received his commission through ROTC. Brayman entered active duty in 2014.

Brayman began his Air Force career by flying the U-28 Draco intelligence plane at the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt, the service said. He switched to the CV-22 in 2020.

“Terry was a beloved brother and son, as well as a multi-talented officer, skilled aviator, mission commander and proven leader of teams,” Oldham said. “His calm and poise bore respect from his squadron mates.”

Brayman deployed in support of two Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises and Operation Inherent Resolve, the Air Force said. He received the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Air and Space Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal and more while in uniform.

Friends online described him as a warmhearted man with a perpetual smile and a knack for debate. Air Force Times was unable to reach members of Brayman’s family for comment.

Senior Airman Kody Johnson, 32

Johnson served as a CV-22 special missions aviator and unit deployment manager at the 21st SOS, the Air Force said.

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native enlisted in the Air Force in 2018 and went on to earn a coveted enlisted spot on the CV-22.

In 2020, he was assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, where he worked as a special mission aviator on the Osprey. In that role, “Kody was an aircraft systems expert responsible for aircraft power calculations, configuration and loading, weight and balance, and aerial gunnery,” the Air Force said.

He had been with the 21st SOS for less than a year when he died.

“Kody brought energy and focus into the organization,” Oldham said. “His tireless work ethic ensured that mission-essential tasks were performed correctly, on time and without complaint. His knowledge, skill and attention to detail inspired competence and trust amongst his fellow aircrew.”

Johnson earned the Air Medal, Air and Space Commendation Medal, Air and Space Achievement Medal and other honors for his service.

Air Force Times was unable to reach members of Johnson’s family for comment.

“Kody was an amazing and caring son, brother, uncle and friend to all,” his family said in a statement to WKEF, the ABC affiliate in Dayton, Ohio. “Kody made a huge impact on all who knew him, and those family and friends are working through the pain and grief that comes with this immeasurable loss.”

Maj. Eric Spendlove, 36

“Doc” Spendlove served as a flight surgeon and medical operations flight commander at the 1st SOS, the Air Force said.

A native of St. George in southwest Utah, Spendlove studied biology at Utah Tech University, according to the St. George News. He went on to study medicine at Saint Louis University and the University of Pikeville’s Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he earned his commission through a scholarship program. He entered active duty in 2017.

Spendlove led a team that better prepared their wing to handle medical emergencies, and oversaw medical coverage for more than 100 airmen during a large joint training exercise with South Korea, the Air Force said.

“Eric exemplified the definition of a quiet professional with steadfast devotion to his family and profession,” said Pellegrino, the 1st SOS commander. “He motivated others with enthusiastic energy in moments of exhaustion, yet was always a calm voice of reason during times of uncertainty.”

Before moving to Japan, Spendlove completed a residency in family medicine at Scott AFB, Illinois, and worked as a flight surgeon at Fairchild AFB’s 348th Air Refueling Squadron. He deployed to countries across the Pacific in support of special operations missions and received the Air and Space Commendation Medal, the service said.

He is survived by his wife, Chelsea, and four children, Ara, 13; Abigail, 6; Adaline, 4; and Aerik, 1. Air Force Times was unable to reach members of Spendlove’s family for comment.

In an interview with KUTV, the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, Spendlove’s sister Monica Murset recounted a text message she received from her brother on his 36th birthday.

“He said to me, ‘I love you, sis. I miss you lots. I often think of our younger days and it makes me wish we talked more. I hope all is well,’” Murset said.

A few weeks later, he was dead.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.



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