Prayers said for dead U.S. airmen

By Lisa CleverdonTHE bodies of nine airmen from East Anglia who were killed when their plane crashed during a military exercise have all been recovered.

By Lisa Cleverdon

THE bodies of nine airmen from East Anglia who were killed when their plane crashed during a military exercise have all been recovered.

The USAF crew members from RAF Mildenhall died when their MC-130H Combat Talon II plane plummeted into a remote mountain ridge in Albania on Thursday evening.

Four bodies were found on Friday and Albanian and U.S. troops later discovered the remaining five inside the plane, officials have confirmed.

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Church services were held on the air base and the surrounding community yesterday and prayers were said for the dead airmen and their families.

Technical Sergeant Kelley Stewart, base spokeswoman, said special prayers had been said during two services held at RAF Mildenhall, led by chaplains Captain Chad Zielinski and Captain Jason Peters.

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"Although we are in the process of organising a special memorial service, the airmen were mentioned and incorporated into both services," she added.

"The congregation was reminded that sometimes God does not make sense, but he is still in control, and prayers were said for the families and the crew members."

The congregation at St Mary's Church in Mildenhall also remembered the airmen during a silence held in their honour yesterday.

The Rev Antony Spencer, team vicar for Mildenhall, said: "This has been a terrible accident and our thoughts were with all those affected by it. We made time for a silence so people could reflect on what had happened through their own thoughts and prayers.

"During a baptism service also held yesterday an American man, who has connections to the base, asked us to include the airmen and their families in our prayers."

Dan Mullin, assistant priest for Beck Row, Eriswell and Icklingham, said the airmen had been in the thoughts of parishioners attending yesterday's service at St Lawrence and St Peter's Church in Eriswell.

"We remembered the men and women who are mourning their loved ones. It is something that is on the minds of everyone in the community and I incorporated it into the service. In our prayers, we are thinking of not only the loss, but of those who are grieving," he added.

The airmen, from the 352nd Special Operations Group, were on a two-week training mission with the Albanian military when their plane crashed in the Drizez mountains, about 35 miles east of Tirana.

Gordon Graham-Hall, manager of the Bird in Hand hotel in Beck Row, said reactions from customers had been mixed over the weekend, with some only learning of the tragedy for the first time after speaking to fellow drinkers.

"Some of the airmen knew of the squadron, while others didn't. It is a big RAF base and I think the news had only just started to properly get through to everyone, but a lot of people have been talking about it," he added.

"Information is still very sketchy at this point and no one really seems to know exactly what happened. This has been the first accident of its kind involving airmen from Mildenhall and it has definitely brought some realities home to a lot of people."

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