The Air Force identified the two pilots killed Nov. 21 in a mishap at Vance Air Force Base.
Lt. Col. John “Matt” Kincade, 47, an instructor pilot assigned to the 5th Flying Training Squadron and 2nd Lt. Travis B. Wilkie, 23, a student pilot assigned to the 71st Student Squadron, were killed during a T-38C Talon training mission, according to a release from Vance.
Kinkade is survived by his wife and two sons. Wilkie, a San Diego native, is survived by his wife, parents and sister.
A 2018 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Wilkie played catcher on the academy’s baseball team for three seasons, 2015-16 and 2018, and was a three-time Academic All-Mountain West Team selection.
“There are no words that can ease the pain of such a loss,” said Air Force baseball head coach Mike Kazlausky said in a news release that appeared on the academy’s web site. “Travis’s energy, cheerfulness and genuineness made him the friend everyone loved, the teammate everyone leaned on, and the man that everyone admired.
“His irreplaceable character makes this tragedy even more painful for those who knew and loved Travis, and it will fuel all of us to continue to love and honor Travis for the rest of our lives,” he said "Words cannot adequately express what an amazing young man and teammate Travis was and what he meant to our baseball family. Our hearts are broken.”
The aircraft were performing a training mission when the incident occurred during the landing phase, according to the release.
Vance emergency response personnel responded to the scene to treat casualties and assist in recovery efforts.
The crash occurred shortly after 9 a.m. at the base in Enid, about 65 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The deceased airmen were aboard one of the T-38 Talons, Simmons said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
He said the two airmen in the other T-38 Talon were not hurt.
Simmons struggled to control his emotions as he described as much as he could of what happened and how the approximately 1,200 military personnel on the base were coping with the tragedy.
"We are a close-knit family," Simmons said, appearing to choke back tears, "and when tragedies like this occur, every member of the U.S. military, Vance, Enid, feels it."
TV footage from the scene showed one aircraft upside down on grass near a runway and the second aircraft upright on the tarmac.
In a statement, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said he was deeply saddened by the accident and loss of the airmen, and offered his prayers to the Vance community and the pilots’ family and friends.
But he also said Congress must do more to make sure training and readiness programs are funded well enough to avoid more such incidents. Inhofe said the defense authorization bill passed last year included funding for training and flight time, repairs and modernization of aircraft, and more policies meant to improve safety, and this year’s bill will authorize more such funding.
“Over the last decade, more active-duty service members died as a result of training-related incidents than in combat operations,” Inhofe said. “While training-related casualties are down this year, even a single instance is too many. We’ve known this is a problem that can’t be solved in a year, and more must be done.”
“Military aviation is inherently dangerous, and our pilots and pilot trainees rely on training to ensure they can do their mission,” Inhofe continued. “That’s why it’s so important that Congress ensure training and readiness programs are well-funded. This is the least we can do to make sure our airmen can safely meet current and future threats and to prevent incidents like what happened at Vance today from happening again.”
The base describes the T-38 Talon on its website as “a twin-engine, high altitude, supersonic jet trainer.” used in a variety of jet pilot training roles. It is one of three types of aircraft, along with the T-1 Jayhawk and the T-6 Texan, used for pilot training at the base.
The crash is the second incident involving a T-38 training jet in Oklahoma in the past 15 months.
Air Force officials said an Air Force pilot ejected successfully before a jet trainer crashed in western Oklahoma in August 2018. The pilot was found safe, while the jet crashed and exploded about 70 miles west of the base. Investigators said the pilot ejected after the jet developed engine trouble, apparently caused by a bird strike.
Simmons said the 2018 crash was the first major accident at the base since 2000. He said there are typically 800-1,000 landings per day at the base as part of about 225 daily training missions.
Simmons said all flights at the base are shut down and that planes would likely remain grounded on Friday.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.