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Reservists overcome winter weather to give late Congressman final flight

By Michael Dukes | 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs | Feb. 14, 2019

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

A Reserve aircrew’s wise planning helped them complete a high-profile airlift mission Feb. 12, 2019 – delivering the remains of U.S. Rep. John Dingell back to Washington – despite crippling winter weather that prevented other aircraft from landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan. 

A Charleston C-17 Globemaster III flown by a crew from the 701st Airlift Squadron was tasked with transporting the former Democratic Congressman’s remains and his family back to Joint Base Andrews where it would be carried by motorcade through the Capitol before being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Besides the Charleston jet’s tasking, two Air Force C-40 transport aircraft from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, carried about 60 members of Congress to Detroit for the funeral. But after the three aircraft circled in a holding pattern waiting for icy weather to clear before landing, the C-40s had to return to Andrews because of limited fuel.

But the C-17 aircrew had prepared for the possibility of inclement weather and were able to stay in the holding pattern 45 minutes longer.

“Before takeoff, we took on extra fuel to account for the possibility of being in an extended holding pattern over Detroit,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, 701 AS aircraft commander. 

Once the freezing rain at the airport cleared, the Charleston C-17 was able to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport without incident. Conner, a pilot known for keeping his cool under pressure, said the situation did not really cause any undue concern and the crew was just doing what they trained to do. “We just happened to have the fuel we needed to hang around longer.” 

Once Dingell’s funeral was complete and the casket and family made it to the airport, the C-17 took off about half an hour later, bound for Joint Base Andrews. Conner said the final leg of the flight was smooth and uneventful. 

Other members of the Charleston crew joining Conner were Capt. Mike Yenchko, 701 AS pilot; Capt. Donald “Shooter” Schmotzer; Chief Bryan Dubois, 701 AS loadmaster superintendent; Tech. Sgt. Travis Nettles, 701 AS loadmaster; and Staff Sgt. Andy Lopez, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief.

The Air Force District of Washington conducted an Arrival Ceremony in honor of the World War II Army veteran and former congressman at Joint Base Andrews later that day. 

Dingell, 92, died in Dearborn, Michigan, Feb. 7. 

Military support for Dingell's funeral is provided by the Defense Department as an exception to policy at the request of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and includes an Army body bearer team, a firing party and a bugler at both the funeral and interment ceremonies. Military funeral honors at the interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., are provided according to Dingell's military service. 

Dingell, who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was not only the longest-serving Representative in American history, but one of the final two World War II veterans to have served in Congress. 

He was the last member of Congress who had served in the 1950s and during the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. 

Editor’s Note: Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle, Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs, contributed to this story.