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Remembering Captain David L. Seitz

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr. (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

 

Fifty years ago, in the week before Christmas, 1972, as the Operation Linebacker II campaign was underway in the war-torn skies over North Vietnam, the 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Group of the Oregon Air National Guard (ANG) was busy participating in a regional air defense exercise with its McDonnell F-101B Voodoo fighter-interceptor jets.  Exercises are important for a unit in order to maintain a high state of readiness.  And for a unit with an air defense responsibility in the Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), with aircraft on alert around the clock to defend the homeland, it was important to be ready anytime.

The group’s 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the Redhawks, had received the F-101 some 20 months before, having converted to the two-seat F-101B (pilot and weapon system operator (WSO) from the single-seat Convair F-102A Delta Dagger fighter-interceptor in the first half of 1971 after about five years of operating the delta-winged F-102.  To learn more about the F-101B, and view pictures of a former 123rd FIS F-101B now at the National Museum of the USAF, see the museum’s fact sheet here.

One of the pilots who made that transition from the F-102A to the F-101B in Oregon was Captain David Loren Seitz.  David L. Seitz was born in Salem, Oregon on October 18, 1942.  He was commissioned as an officer in the Oregon ANG in December, 1962 and completed navigator training in Texas in April, 1964 (Distinguished Graduate).  Then-Lieutenant Seitz returned home to the Pacific Northwest by motorcycle in three days in order to marry his childhood sweetheart.   

Afterwards, Lt. Seitz accomplished radar intercept officer (RIO) training at the ANG RIO school at Portland.  See “The Storm Before the Calm – October, 1962 Part 2: The ANG RIO School,” here.

David Seitz served as a radar intercept officer (RIO) in the two-seat Northrop F-89J Scorpion fighter-interceptor, which the 123rd FIS flew until early 1966, when it converted over to the single-seat F-102.  Wanting to fly the single-seat jet, Seitz applied for and was accepted for pilot training which he completed in 1968 (Distinguished Graduate again).  He subsequently flew the F-102 Delta Dagger in the 123rd, participating in the ADC Runway Alert Program.  See “Runway Alert: Foundation of the Total Force” here

Having attended Willamette University for two years, the University of Oregon for two terms, in March, 1971 David Seitz graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Political Science.  In his civilian life outside the Oregon ANG, he was a real estate broker with Portland Properties.

Seitz and his colleagues in the 142nd FIG had just successfully passed a combined Operational Readiness, Capability and General Inspection by a 41-man Headquarters ADC inspection team which took place from December 8 to 14, 1972. 

But ADC didn’t give much slack and a scant week later the 142nd took part in a higher headquarters-directed exercise.  On the night of 19-20 December, 1972, after working in his civilian job on Wednesday, December 19, Captain David L. Seitz participated in this 25th Air Division/NORAD regional air defense exercise.  This region comprised a vast geographic area including Oregon, Washington, western Idaho and Montana, and the northern parts of California and Nevada, as well as much of British Columbia and some of Alberta provinces in Canada.

Captain Seitz flew one sortie, then turned and flew a second.  At this point in his career, he had accrued 1,535 hours of flying time, including 1,200 hours in jet aircraft. The exercise was still going on, however, and the squadron needed aircrew to fly another jet on another sortie to serve as a “target” airplane simulating an enemy bomber.  Seitz volunteered to fly again, seeking to gain more flight hours.  Unfortunately, no WSOs could be found to fill the back seat in his F-101B, and so Seitz flew alone that fateful night in order to help the unit accomplish exercise objectives.

Takeoff and the tactical mission went smoothly on this third sortie, but at around 2:10 a.m. on the return something went terribly wrong.  Capt Seitz was making his final approach back to Portland Airport from the west at about 5,000 feet when his jet suddenly disappeared from the radar scope and the final approach controller lost contact.  There was no indication of trouble in any prior communications.  

After further efforts to contact Capt Seitz proved fruitless, Sikorsky HH-34J Choctaw helicopters from the 304th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (Air Force Reserve) at Portland were sent to search for him.  They reached the area of last radar contact at 5:35 a.m. but dense fog was encountered and the helicopters returned to Portland.  They launched again later and shortly after daylight, at around 8:40 a.m. and despite heavy fog in the area, one of the helicopters found the site where David Seitz and his aircraft, F-101B serial number 58-0334, had come down.  They were in rough, densely-wooded terrain amidst brush and timber some five miles north of North Plains, in Washington County, Oregon, about 16 miles west northwest of Portland ANG Base. 

Due to terrain and thick brush, the 304th helicopter lowered a couple of pararescue Airmen (PJ’s) to the ground at a clearing a half-mile away, and the two traversed through heavy brush and mud from rains to get to the site.  Sadly, at around 11 a.m. the rescue turned into a recovery as the men found Capt Seitz’ lifeless body near the jet’s wreckage with his parachute partially deployed.  He was 30 years old.

The funeral service for Captain David Loren Seitz was held at Bethany Lutheran Church in Portland on December 22 at 11 a.m.  The 142nd FIG Chaplain, Maj William C. Hurn, Jr.  spoke during the service.  The pallbearers for Capt Seitz were Colonel Patrick E. O’Grady, Lt Col Curtis A. Madson, Maj Jimmy K. Angel, Maj William B. McDonald, Capt John W. Beveridge and Capt Harold W. Hoffman.  He was buried in the Belcrest Memorial Park in Salem, Oregon at 2:30 p.m. that day.  David Seitz was survived by his wife Mary and two children, as well as his parents and a brother. 

At Portland ANG Base, the 142nd FIG held a memorial service during its January 13-14, 1973 Unit Training Assembly.  In that month’s issue of the 142nd FIG Air Scoop newsletter, the poignant aviation sonnet written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was reprinted as a tribute to Capt Seitz.  Magee was an American pilot who flew the Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane in the Royal Canadian Air Force for the Royal Air Force in England during World War II. He perished in an air accident in December, 1941 a few months after he penned “High Flight.”  Perhaps when the connection is closer to home, more personal, the stanzas are more powerful.  We print it again here, in remembrance of Captain David L. Seitz:

 

High Flight

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air….

 

“Up, up the long delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

 

 

The day after the crash, an Air Force accident investigation board from McChord AFB, Washington arrived to determine the cause.  As a result of their findings, some changes were established in official regulations to help prevent a similar recurrence, such as no single-pilot flights and a limit to the hours in an aircrew official duty day.

During this December, 2022, we remember Captain David L. Seitz, with gratitude for his service to community, state and nation and his sacrifice for all, 50 years ago.  The lessons learned from his loss helped improve flying safety which we may sometimes take for granted today.