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The three Coast Guard servicemen died Wednesday when their MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed into the water off La Push, Washington.
Coast Guard Commander Doug Cameron took command of Air Station Sitka just nine days before the accident.
“You’d expect that to mean that I had very little personal connection with the crew,” he said. “But that’s not the way the Coast Guard family is.”
Cameron served with Banks in Kodiak, and with Hoke at Air Station Astoria.
“Lt. Sean Krueger is the one person lost that I was not stationed with previously,” Cameron said.
“Yet given the small size and the rotating nature of airframes in the H-60 fleet, we still had much in common. We shared the same H-60 cockpits. Our flightboots have worn paint off the deck in front of the same rudder pedals. Our hands have held the same flight controls. And much more importantly, we have both had the privilege of flying with people like Brett Banks and Adam Hoke.”
Cameron also thanked Sitkans for offering aid and comfort in the aftermath of the crash, saying Sitka and the Air Station are “completely interwoven.” That was a theme that echoed by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.
“You’ve provided and you’ve stepped forward in ways that I’ve already heard family members express their appreciation, and their thanks for what you’ve done,” Parnell said. “And so now beyond Sitka, Alaskans, this is our challenge: It’s to be the shield for these families and for this community, even as these men were our shield.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski presented flags to the families of the lost crew members, and Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp made the trip from Washington, D.C., to attend the memorial service. He spoke at the ceremony, and then again to reporters afterward.
“It’s such a small service by comparison to the others that when we do have a loss of any Coast Guardsman, much less three, it really touches the lives of all of us,” Papp said. “So that’s why we gather together, why we take the time to do ceremonies like this. It’s really a time for us to get together, to celebrate the lives of these great heroes, and then to shore each other up, to be able to get through the tragedy.”
In addition to the large turnout at the memorial service, it also was watched by more than 1,300 people through an online broadcast.
Words of encouragement and support also were offered to the survivor of the crash, Lieutenant Lance Leone. He was released from a Seattle hospital on Monday after being treated for a broken arm and leg. The Coast Guard says he’s with his family.
KCAW's Lily Mihalik contributed to this report.
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