Guard members at 144th Fighter Wing grieve for airman killed in crash

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's been a difficult few years for the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard.

In 2018, Lieutenant Colonel Seth Nehring died during a flight in Ukraine.

Last month, another airman, Staff Sgt. Ethan Gadis, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Southern California.

Now, the wing is in mourning again, after Lt. Col. Billy 'Taz' Sullivan crashed his single engine homemade plane at the Porterville Airport on Monday.

"As a community, as 1,100 members of this wing, we collectively have been grieving, to the point that we had to stand down for a couple of days and just care for one another and care for ourselves," said Col. Troy Havener, commander of the 144th Fighter Wing.

Sullivan was a longtime member of the Air Force and Air National Guard.

His most recent position was director of operations for the 194th Fighter Squadron -- a key position in the 144th, according to Havener.

"Taz was the embodiment of everything we value here," Havener said. "He was a proficient pilot, ready to go to combat as well as ready to teach anybody anything they needed to know in their growth as a fighter pilot and as a leader."

At the 144th Fighter Wing base in Fresno, guard members have been offered care and counseling services by an "airman care team."

Flights have also been put on pause, but are expected to resume on Thursday.

"After this brief period of caring for one another, we're going to keep caring for his family, but we'll be back to the mission tomorrow and trying to be as proficient and as ready as he was hoping us to be," Havener said.

Sullivan leaves behind a wife. He was 37 years old.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board say their investigator will be examining the frame and engine of Sullivan's plane, with the hope of having the exams complete by later this week.

More information about Sullivan from the 144th Fighter Wing:

Lt Col Sullivan was born in December of 1983. He joined the US Air Force July 18, 2001. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006. He joined the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 20, 2016. He transitioned from the active duty to the Air National Guard while there, before joining the 144th Fighter Wing June 2, 2019. He was announced as the 194th Fighter Squadron Director of Operations March 8, 2021.
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