At approximately 1:45 am on August 6, 1997, Korean Airlines Flight 801 approached A.B. Won Pat International Airport in Agaña, Guam, en route from Seoul, South Korea. The Boeing 747-300 aircraft crashed in a jungle section of Nimitz Hill. The damaged fuselage caught fire and sparked an explosion. Of the 254 passengers and flight crew on board the aircraft, 228 perished.
The island’s remoteness from other U.S. territories made it inevitable that its National Guard would have to respond to a disaster of this size. Governor Carl T.C. Gutierrez called upon nearly 500 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to support rescue and recovery operations. Operations at the crash site, already difficult due to the steep slope of the hillside and thick sword grass, were further complicated by a ruptured gas line and the large size of the debris field, as KAL 801 had broken up into multiple sections.
The Guam Territorial Area Command, the 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry, the 1224th Engineer Detachment, and the 254th Service Flight provided security, communication support, recovery and care of casualty and trauma victims, and much-needed crowd control. Guam’s National Guard did a highly commendable job in supporting territorial civil authorities in what was Guam’s worst aviation disaster.
Governor Gutierrez commended the Soldiers and Airmen of the Guam National Guard. “I saw the real heroes,” he said, “the National Guard … the fire and police, and the other rescue workers who do this type of work on a daily basis. They are truly the heroes…”
The Guam National Guard’s support to the recovery of KAL 801, its first territorial mission since being organized in 1981, demonstrated its professionalism as a military force. The readiness and dedication of this force is underscored by the motto of the Guam Army National Guard: “A’ Adahen I tano,” which translates from the native Chamorro language as “Guardians of the Land.”