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More Than a Few Good Men

The Vertical Vision / Part Iii: Casualties

December 17, 2002

McKay had been married less than a year when he died. George McKay said his son never expressed any fear or concern about the Harrier, though he did complain about lack of flying time.



Call Sign: Booger Died: Sept. 18, 1995

Begehr was flying his AV-8B in formation during a night training run in North Carolina when his plane clipped another Harrier and crashed into the Neuse River.

The other Harrier made it safely back to Cherry Point. It took 12 days to locate Begehr's body and the wreckage.

A Marine report attributed the crash to a momentary distraction. "Operating within the demanding environment of flying a close parade formation position, at night, left very little room for error," it said.

Begehr's parents, German immigrants, said he loved flying. "He said to me one time, 'You know, Mom, I can't believe they're paying me for it,' " said his mother, Lore Begehr of Danville, Calif.

A graduate of San Jose State University, Begehr had been married three years. He was 28.




Call Sign: Wiggy Died: Feb. 16, 1996

Walkerwicz was one of four Harrier pilots involved in the daring rescue of a downed Air Force pilot, Capt. Scott O'Grady, in Bosnia in 1995. The Harriers provided cover for the helicopter that plucked O'Grady from hostile territory.

Walkerwicz , 30, a Marine for eight years, had been obsessed with the Harrier ever since studying its use by the British in the Falkland Islands War, said his father, William Walkerwicz. He said his son "knew they were flying the most unforgiving aircraft in our arsenal."

His AV-8B crashed after apparently being struck by lightning shortly after takeoff from Cherry Point in foggy and windy conditions. The lightning set fire to one wing, then part of the wing broke off. He never ejected from his plane.

Walkerwicz, who grew up in New York state, died two months before he was to be married.



Call Sign: Pops Died: Oct. 7, 1996

Mulkey was blown out of the sky when three bombs, all with expired fuses, detonated prematurely aboard his AV-8B as he flew a training mission over California's Chocolate Mountains. One fellow pilot compared the descending plane to a meteorite.

Investigators initially blamed Mulkey for flying too slow at too steep an angle when he tried to release the bombs. Higher-ranking officials rejected that finding and harshly criticized the ordnance handlers who had loaded the bombs.

"My feeling is it never should have happened and I don't want it to ever happen to another family," said Judith Long, Mulkey's mother. "I'm just disgusted with the military for the way it was handled, and I hope they corrected the problem."

Mulkey, 32, was born in Pueblo, Colo. He was a diligent student, won varsity letters in track and football, and spent his summers as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at a local park.

He met his wife, Katherine, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Their daughters were 5 and 4 at the time of his death.



Call Sign: Gator Died: April 22, 1998

Yount ejected after his engine failed during a training flight over the Imperial Valley. He was killed when his seat rotated out of position and his parachute harness straps snapped against his helmet, breaking his neck.

He was 42, a venerated Marine pilot who was about to become a squadron commander. He had two daughters, 4 and 2.

The investigation concluded that an "incorrectly installed" fastener on the gas turbine starter led to the engine flameout that crippled Yount's AV-8B, and the ejection killed him. The crash led to changes in the ejection system.

Yount graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in nuclear engineering. "He told me once, 'When I'm in the plane, you don't have to worry because I'm in control of what's going on,' " said his widow, Janet Yount.

"Pete Yount was one of those rare guys who was very, very smart, very outgoing and a great pilot," said retired Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle, chief of Marine aviation at the time. "Here was a guy who did every single thing correctly and still the airplane ended up letting him down."



Call Sign: Snatcher Died: Aug. 30, 1999

Three years before Leffler's death, the Marines discovered that a wrong-sized washer had been installed in some Harrier engines. The error caused two nonfatal crashes.

The Naval Air Systems Command ordered a partial inspection of the Harrier fleet for the problem part. The engine in Leffler's AV-8B was never checked. Investigators say the washer caused Leffler's plane to lose power over Death Valley National Park, forcing him to eject into high winds. He landed hard in rocky terrain and died of a head injury.

A highly experienced pilot with nearly 3,000 hours of flight time, Leffler, 49, was nine months from retirement. He was commanding officer of the Marine Aviation Detachment at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, Calif.

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