Maj. Patricia Linck-Mceaney was an MV-22 pilot for six years. The loss of her friend Nick ultimately led to her decision to never fly the Osprey again.

I’d Never Fly the Osprey Again. My Heart Was Broken, Yet Somehow Full at the Same Time.

June 9, 2022, started like any other day—I was up at five a.m. to get ready for work at Marine Aircraft Group 36 in Okinawa, Japan. At the end of my drive, I checked my phone and found a message from my good friend Teedha, my first flight doctor in the fleet.

There had been an Osprey mishap in California, she wrote, possibly at the VMM-364 squadron I’d left a little more than a year before. My stomach dropped as I pictured the faces of my friends still there and I told myself not to panic. I didn’t know anything yet—the severity of the crash or if anyone was hurt.

Nick and Patricia Linck-Mceaney about a year after they met and just before they deployed to Kuwait for the first time.

Nick and Patricia Linck-Mceaney about a year after they met and just before they deployed to Kuwait for the first time. Photo courtesy of the author.

Inside, I logged on to my computer and, while my email uploaded, typed “Osprey crash California.” Sure enough, the media had already begun a frenzied race to see who would be the first to report on another V-22 crash—information that may or not be accurate.

The first article I pulled up confirmed it was indeed a VMM-364 aircraft. The accompanying photo by an airborne news crew captured an aerial view of the wreckage. The streak of charred debris on the desert floor leading to larger chunks of metal and proproters barely resembled an Osprey.

Four dead. One missing. I took a deep breath.

I knew that it would be hours until I heard anything else, and probably even longer to hear the names of the deceased. Mishaps kick off a sacred and vital process that helps ensure families are the first to know that their loved one has died.

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I sent two messages to my closest friends who were still with the 364—Daly and Nick, aka “Sloppy.”

I know you can’t say anything right now, I typed. But when you can, please tell me you’re OK.

Then I waited.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney and Nick ran the San Diego Rock and Roll half marathon together in 2018. They stuck together until 50 yards short of the finish line, when Nick sprinted to the end and “beat” her.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney and Nick ran the San Diego Rock and Roll half marathon together in 2018. They stuck together until 50 yards short of the finish line, when Nick sprinted to the end and “beat” her. Photo courtesy of the author.

For the next four hours, I did my best to get on with my day. But I constantly checked my phone and news sites, trying to squeak out any information I could. I received a text from my friend Martin, who had also moved on from the 364, asking if I’d heard. I told him what little I knew. He said he didn’t know anything for sure, but he’d heard rumors. If true, he wrote, It’s really going to hurt.

I was not prepared for that reply, which I took to mean that one of the two people we’d “grown up with” were among the dead. I closed the door to my empty office before anyone could see the tears leaking down my face. I tried to push away the sinking dread and compose myself. When my eyes were dry, I opened my door and got back to work the best I could.

My phone rang two hours later as I sat at my desk having lunch with a friend and coworker. It was Daly, one of the two friends I’d messaged at the start of the day. I picked up, relieved and grateful to hear her voice. 

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“I’m so, so glad you are OK,” I told her once I stepped outside. 

“Yeah … I’m OK. Trish … It was Sloppy.” Her voice caught at her sob.

Nick. The only other person I’d messaged that morning.

Martin was right. The pain of the news and all the built-up fear from the last hours hit me hard. I walked back inside because I didn’t want the entire world to see my pain as I stood in front of the headquarters building. 

My friend was still in the office, and I closed the door behind me, sobbing. 

“No. No. No,” I said over and over. It couldn’t be.

Eventually, I called my husband, Michael, who worked at 5th ANGLICO on Camp Hansen about 40 minutes north of Futenma, and told him who we lost. We both drove home and sat in disbelief together, thinking of Nick’s fiancee, his family, all our friends. We spent much of the next day messaging with family and friends. I made one call to break the news to Teedha, who hadn’t yet heard, and another difficult call to Nick’s fiancee. 

Patricia Linck-Mceaney and her husband, Mike, at the Marine Corps Ball in Okinawa, Japan.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney and her husband, Mike, at the Marine Corps Ball in Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of the author.

A week and a half later, Michael and I traveled to Southern California to attend the crew’s memorial service followed by an all-night party at Nick’s favorite bar. I saw so many people I never thought I’d see again—or at least not so soon under these circumstances. I wore a fake mustache given out by a friend’s wife and a Hawaiian shirt (a request of Nick himself).

My heart was broken but somehow, at the same time, incredibly full to watch so many people who cared about Nick come together. His family was there too: his mom, dad, and younger sister. As I tried to comfort his mom and sister with a story or hug, they told me how much Nick had loved me—an incredible kindness amid their grief.

I knew he had. Nick was the first person I got to know when I showed up as a brand-new copilot at 364 six years earlier. After I’d left, he was among the few who made the effort to keep in regular contact.

Nick’s death hit me hard. It contributed to my final decision to never fly the Osprey again.

That being said, I don’t want anyone to make assumptions. It wasn’t because I feared flying the aircraft or questioned its safety. Aviation is an unforgiving and dangerous job, especially in the military. Everyone who chooses it knows and accepts this. If they don’t, they’re delusional, or they carry the perceived invincibility of youth.

At the time of the crash, I was medically disqualified and already trying to decide whether I wanted to fight to get into the aircraft again. When my husband and I got home the day Nick died, he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so glad you’re not flying right now.” And I knew that was the end. After eight years in the Marine Corps—with two more to go—I was done taking the extra risk. I was ready to use my skills elsewhere. 

Patricia Linck-Mceaney with a friend and fellow Marine in the old, barely running RV her squadron purchased.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney with a friend and fellow Marine in the old, barely running RV her squadron purchased. Photo courtesy of the author.

For the better part of a year following Nick’s accident, my nightmares were relentless. I dreamed Nick was still alive, and we were flying together again. Once, I dreamed my husband and I witnessed a multi-aircraft, midair collision and ran to the crash site only to find a massive wall of fire, completely encompassing the debris and people inside.

It has not been a good couple of years for the Osprey; everyone knows that. Within 18 months of Nick’s crash, there were two fatal V-22 mishaps, including one near Darwin, Australia. I was home making dinner when a former coworker messaged asking if I was OK. He sent me an article about the Darwin crash, which resulted in three fatalities. I hadn’t yet heard about it. I began hyperventilating as I walked into the living room. Unable to speak, I handed the phone to my husband. 

I’d been with the VMM-265 (nicknamed the Dragons) in Okinawa as a night systems instructor for about a year before I stopped flying. They were now deployed and had been near Australia. 

Michael knelt down beside me. “Trish, it wasn’t the Dragons. It was a Hawaii squadron,” he told me. His arms enveloped me as I worked to slow my breathing. While I was relieved the dead weren’t among those I knew personally, it was, at best, a small consolation. We’d still lost three people from our small community.

From the time of the VMM-364 mishap until the most recent grounding, it has felt like the V-22 community has been holding its breath, waiting for whatever was next. As we all wait for the results of the CV-22 crash that killed eight airmen in Japan this past November, we speculate what they will be and what it will mean for the safety of the aircraft; its crew; and the Marines, sailors, and airmen it carries. I will not share speculations or more thoughts on the state of the V-22. That’s not why I’m writing this story.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney speaks at Nick’s memorial service two weeks after the crash.

Patricia Linck-Mceaney speaks at Nick’s memorial service two weeks after the crash. Photo courtesy of the author.

Since my career began, whenever I meet someone outside my community and tell them I’m an MV-22 pilot, they grimace. Sometimes they make incoherent noises out of sympathy or aversion. If they’re grunts, their faces usually go a little pale and their eyes widen. Sometimes they say, “I’m sorry,” and laugh nervously. Or they ask me outright, “Are you afraid of the Osprey? What do you think about everything that’s going on?”

I always tell them I love the Osprey, it’s fun to fly, and it has among the best track records of any aircraft the Marine Corps has put into operation. And I’m not playing two truths and a lie. These are the facts.

There is always joy in grief. They follow one another and often eclipse each other, making it difficult to see that they are both always there. The people who ask me questions don’t know the other side of the story. They don’t see the joy; they only see the grief.

They don’t know about that time in 2019 when John and I, along with two of our favorite crew chiefs, flew to a forward operating base in Iraq to bring dip and Monsters to a motley crew of Marines. How we were eagerly greeted by a half-dozen bearded, shirtless Marines in short “silkies” and boots and one especially excited Marine wearing a MARPAT robe. They were so ecstatic they pulled the pallet off the aircraft themselves. That never happens.

They don’t know about that time I got to fly up to Lake Tahoe with two aircraft for a long weekend of training in the mountains. Or the time we flew two aircraft from Kuwait over the Red Sea to Djibouti, Africa. They also don’t know about the time the pilots in my squadron bought an old, beaten-down, barely running RV painted yellow with purple flames covering the front third. A bunch of us drove that thing down from Pendleton to the Miramar Air Show after-party the year we got it. I’ll never forget sitting in the passenger seat next to my friend Cory as he drove that beast down the 5, racing the sunset because our headlights didn’t work, topping out at 40 miles per hour.

Most people don’t know how exciting it is when you finally become an instructor and your first student co-pilots arrive. The feeling of watching those students grow in their skill with the aircraft, even incrementally, is one of the most satisfying things I’ve experienced. They don’t know what it was like to go through nearly every instructor training syllabus with Nick “Sloppy,” and the shared relief after each accomplishment we earned. Or what it means that Nick was the sole witness at our wedding in 2020. Or how it felt when, after I left for Okinawa, I heard his voice on the phone yell, “Trash Person!” when I picked up. 

Maj. Patricia Linck-Mceaney was an MV-22 pilot for six years. The loss of her friend Nick ultimately led to her decision to never fly the Osprey again.

Maj. Patricia Linck-Mceaney was an MV-22 pilot for six years. The loss of her friend Nick ultimately led to her decision to never fly the Osprey again. Photo courtesy of the author.

All the rewards for the hard work put into the choice of becoming a Marine and Osprey pilot are there in the experiences and the people I have met along the way. I have found the aviation community in the Marine Corps to be heartbreaking, challenging, and rewarding. We showed up every day for the Marines we serve with—we made it through deployments, bad commanding officers, and more than one mishap. Nothing tops the friendships I’ve made or the satisfaction of doing the job, and now that I’m nearing the end of my time as a Marine, I am afraid that nothing ever will.

If all this happened back when I was flying, I would have said, “No, I’m not afraid.” Death comes for all of us, and we are often unprepared. That doesn’t mean we should live our lives in fear of it and not take risks. Being a Marine is a risk. Being a pilot of any aircraft is a risk.

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Most days I still cannot believe Nick is really gone; someone so full of life and plans just gone on a Wednesday that started like any other. Still, I would never sacrifice the joy of having him in my life to avoid the grief of his absence.

As I continue to grieve for one of my best friends and a career that is quickly coming to an end, I just want people to understand that I would do it all over again. 


This War Horse reflection was written by Patricia Linck-Mceaney, edited by Kristin Davis, fact-checked by Jess Rohan, and copy-edited by Mitchell Hansen-Dewar. Abbie Bennett wrote the headlines.

 

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Patricia Linck-Mceaney

Major Patricia Linck-Mceaney was an MV-22 pilot for six years starting at the world-famous Purple Foxes, VMM-364, in 2017. After 11 years of service, she is beginning her transition to civilian life in July. Trish holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She lives in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband, also on active duty, and her 3-year-old dog, Appa.

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