The U.S. Coast Guard has released the names of the Sitka crew members aboard a helicopter that went down in the waters off La Push, Wash., yesterday.
The survivor of the crash is 29-year-old Lt. Lance Leone. He’s recovering from non-life-threatening injuries at a Seattle hospital.
Killed in Wednesday’s accident were Lt. Sean Krueger, Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Hoke, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Banks.
Krueger was from Seymour, Conn., and was the commander of the helicopter. He was 33 years old and married with three children.
Inside the hangar at Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, Lt. Nate Hudson is standing with a group of friends.
Hudson is a pilot and he’s known Krueger for the last 10 years. He says they worked together at Air Station Cape Cod, before Krueger went on an exchange tour with the British Royal Navy’s search and rescue detachment for about three years.
“And when I checked in to Air Station Cape Cod,” Hudson said, “we decided to live in the housing, and when we got into the housing office, somebody said ‘Hey, we’ve already got a house reserved for you.’ And we went and it was right across the street from the Kruegers. That was just kind of the people that they are.”
Krueger had been station in Sitka for about a year and a half. Hudson says Krueger was active in the community.
“He was not only a soccer coach, but he’s a ref,” Hudson said. “He reffed football and soccer and (was) very well known in the school districts. All ages of sporting activities.”
Hoke, 40, was from Great Falls, Mont. He was an aviation maintenance technician and has one son.
Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Magie said he’s been stationed with Hoke for about 15 years.
“He loved the Coast Guard,” Magie said. “He had a lot of dedication to what he did here. Every waking moment was ‘What can I do better for the Coast Guard?’”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Banks, age 33, was from Rock Spring, Wyo., and also was an aircraft maintenance technician. He was married with two children.
“He was my go-to guy,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Brevik, who worked with Banks for 9 years.
“When we needed something done, especially metal smithing, he could certainly bend some metal and make something happen,” Brevik said. “Whether it was on the aircraft or making an adjustment for his boat, coming up with ideas together on our boats.”
Brevik and Banks were stationed together in Kodiak and Sitka and spent a lot of time together off-duty.
“Usually when we’d go out hunting and stuff we would certainly take our time coming back,” Brevik said, “so we could not only enjoy the sites, but always hope for that one last glimpse of putting some food on the table.”
Banks also was an active member of Sitka Mountain Rescue.
The helicopter crew all were decorated Coast Guardsmen with numerous medals and accolades on their records.
Cmdr. Doug Cameron has been the commanding officer of Air Station Sitka for about a week and a half. He’s been holding regular meetings with the approximately 120 people who work at the station.
“And when I look at all their faces, I see the whole spectrum,” Cameron said. “From the shock and disbelief to the anger of why’d this happen, to the just plain sadness of the loss: It’s a very individual thing.”
Fr. Dave Elsensohn is pastor of St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Sitka, and a volunteer chaplain for the Coast Guard. He spent Wednesday meeting with families of the victims. He says the staff at the Air Station is probably in the very early stages of grieving, and thinking about people they might have just seen the day before.
“And I’m sure that they themselves couldn’t help but think about their own situations because they’re all in the same line of work of putting their life on the line for the community,” Elsensohn said.
Coast Guard personnel from Cordova have been brought in to perform the normal operations in Sitka for a week or so. The Coast Guard also ordered all air stations nationwide to break from normal operations and review safety practices. Officials say the stand-down will not affect emergency response or important patrols.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has ordered state flags to be flown at half-mast on Friday. A Coast Guard chaplain and a crisis team have arrived at Air Station Sitka to help personnel and their families.
And plans are underway for a memorial service, to which the public will be invited.
KCAW’s Lily Mihalik contributed to this report.