SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — On the stormy night of Thursday, Oct. 29, 1992, an MH-60G Pave Hawk chopper crashed into the Great Salt Lake, claiming the lives of 12 of the 13 men on board during what the Air Force called a routine training mission.
On Saturday, Oct. 29. 2022, a memorial service will be held to honor the lives of those men – 30 years to the day after they died. Among those dead were five U.S. Army Rangers and seven U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers. The event will begin at 10 a.m. on Antelope Island.
What happened to the MH-60G Pave Hawk? Click to read the full story.
This 30th-year anniversary event would not have happened if Geoffrey Hitchcock of Florida had not decided to visit Antelope Island with his wife to pay respects to the 12 special operatives during a work trip in Salt Lake City last June. Hitchcock, a retired Air Force special tactics combat controller, was good friends with two airmen who were on the Pave Hawk the night it crashed.
Unfortunately, Hitchcock was deployed in Turkey when he heard the news of their death.
“That was a bad day,” he said.
When he finally found the time to drive out to Antelope Island State Park, he discovered the memorial site in “horrible condition.” Pictures of the fallen men had faded and cracked, peeling at the edges. The colors of the emblems had been washed out with the passing of time.
“It was kind of a bummer, right?” Hitchcock said. “I went out there for one reason and came out of there with a reason to get the restoration done.”
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And there began his journey of enlisting the help of numerous organizations to restore the memorial site. Through a mutual friend, he was able to get Combat Control Foundation, a non-profit that provides care and support to combat controllers and their families, to host a memorial service and sponsor the restoration.
Other participating organizations include the Air Commando Association, Combat Control Foundation, 75th Ranger Regiment Association, Three Rangers Foundation, U.S. Army Ranger Association, Gallant Few, Sua Sponte Foundation and Hardrock Charlie Foundation.
Hitchcock said he had signed a three-year maintenance contract with a local monument maker, Precious Stones Monument Restoration, to keep the memorial clean and refreshed.
“It’s important for me because I had close connections to those guys,” he said. “I’ve been to too many funerals for guys who got killed in Afghanistan. But I think it’s always important to try to remember the sacrifices that these guys give. I was one of those guys for 22 years.”
Hitchcock was friends with Capt. Michael Nazionale and Tech. Sgt. Marck Scholl with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron based at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
Fresh off his first tour in Germany, Hitchcock met Scholl when he was stationed in North Carolina. He described Scholl as an “awesome guy” who was loved by everybody that knew him.
“He was older and wiser than I was,” Hitchcock said. “He took everybody – all the young guys – under his wing and kept us straight. He was just a fantastic guy.”
Katie, one of Scholl’s daughters, will be present at the ceremony on Saturday. Hitchcock said he hadn’t seen her in a long time, and it will be good to be able to catch up with her.
Nazionale was Hitchcock’s tech sergeant when he attended an air traffic control school in Biloxi, Miss.
“He would be the guy that put us through hell after air traffic control school – running, push-ups, getting us ready for all the other schools we had to go to,” he said.
The press release stated that the memorial service will open with an opening prayer, followed by a description of the operation, guest speakers, and unveiling of the updated memorial. It will conclude with a 21-gun salute, “Taps,” and a benediction.
Aside from the big reveal of the memorial, Hitchcock said he is also excited about seeing some of his brothers.
“It is a really large brotherhood, regardless of what branch of service you served in,” he said. “There are some guys that are coming out that I haven’t seen in a very long time, and it’s gonna be good to connect with them as well as pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Senior Airman Derek C. Hughes’s daughter will be present at the event to receive a challenge coin bearing his father’s unit emblem from Dan Schilling, a combat controller and full-time writer living in Sandy.