Remembering the past, exploring the present, honoring the fallen

F-106A Delta Dart jet fighter is displayed at the McChord Field Heritage Hill Air Park May 5, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The F-106 was flown at McChord under the 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron from 1960-1983. (Courtesy photo)

F-106A Delta Dart jet fighter is displayed at the McChord Field Heritage Hill Air Park May 5, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The F-106 was flown at McChord under the 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron from 1960-1983. (Courtesy photo)

A small U.S. flag is displayed May 5, 2017, beside what is believed to be the remnants of a crashed Convair F-106A Delta Dart jet fighter near its believed crash site at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The F-106 was piloted by Capt. Mark Van Stone, 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron pilot, when it crashed June 24, 1980, on approach to McChord Field. (Courtesy photo)

A small U.S. flag is displayed May 5, 2017, beside what is believed to be the remnants of a crashed Convair F-106A Delta Dart jet fighter near its believed crash site at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The F-106 was piloted by Capt. Mark Van Stone, 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron pilot, when it crashed June 24, 1980, on approach to McChord Field. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

Nearly 37 years after the crash of an aircraft approaching McChord Field, an aviation archeologist discovered remnants of the crashed jet. David Trojan, an aviation archeologist came across various pieces of Capt. Mark Van Stone’s downed Convair F-106A Delta Dart jet fighter after examining the crash site May 3 on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

 “Every aircraft accident has a story to tell; it is up to me to discover the facts and fill in the blanks about where they crashed,” said Trojan. “The discoveries shed light on those who have sacrificed so much to give us the peace we enjoy today.”

 Stone flew with the 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and was killed June 24, 1980, when his aircraft hit a tree on approach to the McChord Field runway.  The jet made a rapid, sudden descent and crashed two miles from the south end of the runway, leaving a debris trail several hundred yards long. It was later determined that during the critical landing phase of the flight, the Central Air Data Computer aboard the aircraft failed and was a major cause of the accident, said Trojan. This was the last crash involving a 318th FIS crew or aircraft before the unit was disbanded at then McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Because of its significance, Trojan said he wanted to determine the exact location of the crash site and any remains of the aircraft. Since the aircraft crashed before the use of GPS and modern accident investigation standards, the actual crash site wasn’t well documented.

 “Finding anything from an event so long ago is always difficult, especially in the heavily wooded terrain of the Northwest,” said Trojan. “Educating the public about the history, the importance of these sites and the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price, is what aviation archaeology is all about.”

Armed with copies of the official accident report and the latest Google Earth images, Trojan set out to find the exact location. The area of the crash site has changed over the last 37 years and is located on a training range on Fort Lewis.  

Trojan discovered that most of the impact site is now buried under layers of dirt. By following the flight path through the woods, he discovered pieces of the aircraft in the surrounding area. It requires the trained eyes of aviation archaeologists to spot the small grey painted parts with rivets sticking up through the ground.

“It is always important to remember our predecessors whose achievements and sacrifices helped us to continue making progress today,” said Dr. Robert Allen, 62nd Airlift Wing historian. “Capt. Van Stone's family continues to deserve our support.”

In total Trojan found seven small pieces of metal that he determined came from the F-106A. The artifacts that were discovered were left at the site with a small flag to honor Van Stone’s sacrifice.  

“His service to his country is not forgotten,” said Trojan. “I know his story and sacrifice will live on.”