An airman died and two others were injured in a June Humvee accident when their vehicle rolled over during training in Kansas, throwing the unrestrained passengers to the ground, according to the results of an Air Force investigation published Dec. 3.
Staff Sgt. Wesley Kubie, a 30-year-old tactical air control party specialist in the Kansas Air National Guard, was fatally injured in a June 8 ride-along on a close air support training mission at Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range. Also in the vehicle were Staff Sgt. Jaden Johnson, 23, and Staff Sgt. Cole Frederick, 28.
The three airmen, all assigned to the 284th Air Support Operations Squadron at Smoky Hill, had planned for an afternoon of training to call in airstrikes with a B-52 Stratofortress bomber and two F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.
Around 2 p.m. local time, one guardsman was driving the Humvee (formally known as a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) between two areas where the airmen on the ground could coordinate with the B-52. Then the driver took a left turn too far inside the curve and lost control.
“The vehicle skidded while entering a curve in the road, spinning until it was perpendicular to the road,” the Air Force report said. “The right front tire then got caught in the dirt, causing the vehicle to roll over one and a half times before coming to rest on its roof.”
Investigators couldn’t tell how fast the Humvee was moving when it crashed on the gravel road. Still, they noted that none of the airmen inside had fully fastened their seatbelts or helmets or were not wearing them at all.
The disoriented driver landed a few feet from the battered vehicle, while the second passenger fell to the ground about 60 feet from the vehicle. Kubie flew the farthest and hit the ground 90 feet away in critical condition.
When the Humvee still hadn’t arrived at the observation point known as Soldier’s Cap about 20 minutes later, and airmen working at the range couldn’t contact the TACPs, someone went looking for the missing vehicle. They found a dire scene.
Smoky Hill’s control tower called in county police and emergency medical crews, who arrived about 45 minutes after the accident. Kubie was flown to a hospital about 30 miles south of the range around 3:20 p.m., more than an hour after the crash, and was declared dead at 4 p.m. The others were treated at a local health center.
Factors like maintenance, health and training do not appear to have played a part in the accident, according to the report.
“The report and photographs showed no evidence of heavy braking and documented three tire tracks in the road,” investigators said. “Once [the Humvee] began its initial skid and rotation, [the driver] would not have regained control.”
Kubie, who died on his eighth wedding anniversary, is survived by his wife and three young children. He was posthumously promoted to technical sergeant. A GoFundMe page collected nearly $94,000 for the family and to help Johnson and Frederick recover.
Kubie’s death was the Air Force’s third on-duty fatality in a ground vehicle within a year. Two airmen at Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base — Staff Sgt. Ronald Ouellette and Senior Airman Jason Khai Phan — died in separate military all-terrain vehicle accidents that occurred just days apart in September 2020.
Five people have died in government-owned motor vehicle mishaps in the past three years, according to Air Force Safety Center data published Dec. 1.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.