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Families, shipmates honor fallen helo crew members

Jan. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Family, friends and shipmates are seen at the memorial service for Lt. Sean Snyder, Lt. J. Wesley Van Dorn, and Aviation Crewman (Helicopter) 3rd Class Brian Collins, at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 17.
Family, friends and shipmates are seen at the memorial service for Lt. Sean Snyder, Lt. J. Wesley Van Dorn, and Aviation Crewman (Helicopter) 3rd Class Brian Collins, at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 17. (MC3 Tyler Thompson / AP)
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Friends, family and shipmates gathered to pay tribute Friday to three aircrewmen killed when their helicopter crashed Jan. 8 off the coast of Virginia.

A memorial service took place at Naval Station Norfolk,Va., in honor of pilot Lt. Wesley Van Dorn, 29, Aviation Crewman (Helicopter) 3rd Class Brian Collins, 25, and pilot Lt. Sean Snyder, 39, where friends, family and co-workers laughed and cried as they listened to personal stories about the men, The Associated Press reported.

The crew members, assigned to Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14, were conducting mine countermeasures training in an MH-53E Sea Dragon with another helicopter about 18 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach when they went into the water, Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, told Navy Times.

Van Dorn, Collins and two aircrewman were rescued by the other helicopter and taken to a local hospital, where Van Dorn and Collins passed away from their injuries later that day. Both surviving crew members were released from the hospital by Jan. 10.

Navy, Coast Guard and Virginia Beach Fire Department assets aided in a search for Snyder and the wreckage. Coast Guard and Virginia Beach crews withdrew from the search Jan. 9.

Navy divers discovered Snyder’s remains inside the helo’s cockpit Jan. 15.

The Coast Guard cutter Shearwater, which was two miles from the site at the time of the incident, aided in initial search efforts. Other units on-scene at points in the search included the destroyer Jason Dunham, amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde, salvage vessel Grasp and dry cargo ship Medgar Evers, along with MH-60S helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadrons 2 and 28 and divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, Naval Fleet Forces spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen confirmed.

The Sea Dragon airframe is in use by two Norfolk-based squadrons — HM-14 and HM-15. This was the fourth Sea Dragon crash in less than two years; the previous three occurred in 2012. Following two HM-15 crashes, the unit’s commanding officer and command master chief were fired.

“Over the last two years, the Navy has invested significant resources, including money for training and equipment, to make sure that the service life for this aircraft continues to be viable,” Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic commander Capt. Todd Flannery said Jan. 11.

Flannery said that though this crash didn’t happen because of a takeoff mishap or because the helo was carrying too heavy a load, as happened in 2012, the investigation board would consider the previous incidents in its assessments.

There are no plans to ground the MH-53E, he added. The Navy confirmed that it is still scheduled to go out of service around 2025.

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