Frederick Co. town mourns Army pilot who died in crash

She was one of 7 people in anti-drug plane that went down in Colombia

July 30, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Residents of Brunswick, a small Frederick County community on the banks of the Potomac River, are mourning the loss of a young Army pilot, a former resident whose anti-drug plane crashed into a Colombian mountainside last week.

Capt. Jennifer Jill Shafer Odom, 29, who grew up on her parents' farm a few miles west of Brunswick before entering West Point, was one of seven people aboard the plane, family members said yesterday. She was one of the plane's two pilots, they said.

Yesterday, searchers climbed the densely forested mountain to retrieve the bodies of five U.S. soldiers and two Colombians, authorities said. By afternoon, four of the bodies had been removed and were being taken to Bogota.

Odom arrived in Colombia on July 6 to begin a three-week rotation as part of Colombia's U.S.-backed war on drug traffickers, her husband, retired Lt. Col. Charles Frank Odom, said yesterday during a telephone interview from Brunswick.

The group was aboard a de Havilland RC-7 reconnaissance plane, which hit a 9,000-foot peak while it circled a major drug-producing area near Colombia's southern border with Ecuador.

The U.S. soldiers, who were based at Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso, Texas, are believed to be the first American military personnel killed while fighting illegal drugs in Colombia, the No. 1 cocaine-producing nation.

"These dedicated Americans and their Colombian comrades were engaged in the vital work of combating the drug trade, which threatens the welfare and security of both our nations," President Clinton said in a statement issued at the White House.

Odom was drawn to the competitive world of aviation while a student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, her husband said. She had flown anti-drug missions in Panama before being transferred to Fort Bliss.

"She's very competitive and she thought it would be a great branch to show them how tough women are," Odom said. "And that's what she's done all along the way."

The daughter of a math teacher and farmer, Odom graduated in 1988 from Brunswick High School, one of the two valedictorians. She played varsity basketball, acted in school plays, and was well-respected by her teachers and peers in her school of 850 students, said Wayne Carter, head of the school guidance department.

"While she was very active, she was not a flamboyant kind of person," Carter said. "She was kind of quiet, intellectual -- just an all-around student."

She graduated from West Point in 1992, finishing in the top quarter of her class. Odom married soon after and began a career in aviation, and eventually became involved in anti-drug missions.

"She loved it. It was long periods away from home, but that was one of the sacrifices," Odom said. "Many military people make that sacrifice. It's a strain, though she thought she was making a difference with what she was doing."

In addition to her husband, Odom is survived by two teen-age stepsons of El Paso, Texas; her parents, John and Janie Shafer, and a brother, Wesley, 16, all of Brunswick.

Odom's hometown of Brunswick, with a population of 5,300, sits on the western edge of Frederick County. Even residents who did not know the Army pilot mourned for her this week as news spread of her death. At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, council members said a prayer for the family.

"It's certainly affected a lot of people," said Rick Brace, Brunswick city administrator. "Whenever someone is lost, it's difficult. Especially in a small town. You lose somebody and everybody feels the loss."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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