A week following the accident, the three airmen who died received full military honors at a standing-room only memorial in the air station’s hangar. Almost two-thousand people crowded in for the stirring twenty-one gun salute, Taps, and a fly over by helicopters from Air Station Kodiak.
Lost in the crash off the coast of La Push, Washington, were Lt. Sean Krueger, Petty Officer Adam Hoke, and Petty Officer Brett Banks. A fourth airman, Lt. Lance Leone survived with serious injuries.
Lt. Cmdr. Doug Cameron had been in charge of Air Station Sitka for only nine days before the crash. And though he had served in previous assignments with Hoke and Banks, and had only just met Krueger, Cameron told mourners that in a small service like the Coast Guard, no one was a stranger.
“Our flight boots 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.”
That sentiment was echoed by Admiral Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, who was among the numerous dignitaries at the memorial. He shared his thoughts with reporters after the ceremony.
“It’s such a small service by comparison to the others that when we do have a loss of any one Coast Guardsman – much less three – it really touches the lives of all of us. So that’s why we gather together to take the time to do ceremonies like this. I refer to it as The Manners of Our Profession. It’s a time for us to get together, to celebrate the lives of these great heroes, and then to shore each other up to get through the tragedy.”
According to District 17 operations, the Guard suffered seven major aviation mishaps in the two years prior to the loss of the Sitka helicopter. Since the crash of 6017, however, there have no major incidents. In a news release, Vice Admiral Brian Salerno says the service has returned to the basics: Aviate, navigate, and communicate. He also stressed the importance of “battling complacency, managing the rate of change, and mitigating risk.”
KCAW's Ed Ronco contributed to this report.
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