Twenty-seven years have passed since Rose Emory, a civilian contractor, lost her life at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in a tragic accident involving the crash of an F/A-18 Hornet. But a loving sister is making sure her memory lives on.
At 10 a.m., Oct. 1, 1992, Emory was driving her company pickup down Bronson Road, near the airfield, on her way to the water plant where she worked as an operator for FD Services, now IAP. Overhead, a Marine Corps pilot and copilot, who had been on a chase mission observing a second F/A-18 during tests of its flight systems software, reported difficulty with flight controls and were returning to Pax River to make an arrested landing.
As reported in the Oct. 2, 1992, Tester newspaper, “An airplane flight control fault on final approach caused an overshoot of the trap and the pilot waived off. In the waive off, the crew reported the aircraft was out of control. The crew ejected and the unmanned F/A-18 crashed, hitting the pickup truck.” Emory, who had been scheduled to be off that day, was killed.
“I was home with my 2-year-old son at the time and I remember it like it was yesterday,” said her younger sister, Tracy Hunley, now a budget financial manager for foreign sales with PMA-290, the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft office. “My dad called and said a plane landed on Rose’s truck and all we can do is pray.”
Hunley recalled the chaotic day seeming to move in slow motion, with friends and family calling and stopping by almost immediately, even before the existence of instant messaging and social media.
“The news spread quickly and a lot of people showed up to support us,” she noted. “We went to the base later that day and they took us in a van to the crash site. [The aircraft] only hit the cab of her truck. We couldn’t go past the barriers, but we could see aircraft parts everywhere; the plane was in pieces, and everything was black from the [resulting] fire.”
Tree planting memorial
Emory, 27, had no children, and the husband she left behind passed away in 2012. Hunley, who feels it is her responsibility to keep her sister’s memory alive, had planted a tree on Bronson Road years ago, but learned it had been damaged and had died. She began the process of seeking permission to plant another tree and finally saw those efforts come to fruition Oct. 1 when more than 50 people — a mixture of family members, friends and coworkers — showed up to honor Emory and help plant a crepe myrtle during a memorial ceremony presided over by Pax River Chaplain Lt. Clay Hamrick.
“We planted it at exactly 10 a.m. on Oct. 1,” Hunley said. “About 30 IAP employees who worked with Rose were there and also several that never knew her, but still came to pay their respects. It was planted near the playground [across from the Beach House]. I think it’s a nice spot and I know it will be well maintained there.”
Hunley intended to purchase the tree herself but once IAP management learned of the plan, they offered to pick up the expense and even delivered the tree.
“It really meant a lot to me,” she added. “It’s touching that 27 years later, they’re still willing to step up in the moment I need them.”
Dale Wathen, an estimator and project planner contractor working with NAWCAD, was a close family friend and remembers Rose as an optimistic person who was always smiling.
“She was an honest person with high ideals and integrity, a hard worker who was always willing to help others,” said Wathen, who attended the recent tree planting. “I wanted to show my respect for her and have another chance to remember her, as she is very missed by her many friends and family.”
Hunley missed a call from her sister the night before the accident, and for some time afterward, would listen to the message just to hear her voice again.
“It was just us three girls,” she said, also referring to the sister a year older than Emory, who now resides in South Carolina. “Dad raised us and we were close. We all know what a good person Rose was and we just want Pax River to know we lost someone valuable that day. Rose was the only vehicle on that road. Back then, there really was nothing down there except for the water plant. It was an act of God; it’s the only way you can look at it. For some reason, he needed her more than we did, and he called her home.”
Emory Road at NAS Pax River is named in memory of her.