Lakenheath/Norfolk: Colonel pays tribute to those killed in Cley helicopter crash
PUBLISHED: 12:49 09 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:49 09 January 2014
A US Air Force colonel has paid tribute to the four air crew from Suffolk killed in the Cley helicopter crash as well as the local community around the base.
Colonel Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, this morning paid tribute to Captains Christopher S Stover, 28, and Sean M Ruane, 31, Technical Support Sergeant Dale E Mathews, 37, and Staff Sergeant Afton M Ponce, 28.
He told a press conference at RAF Lakenheath this morning that it was too early to speculate on the cause of Tuesday’s crash and that no warning messages were received from the helicopter prior to the incident.
Speaking to the families of the airmen, Colonel Robinson said: “As a husband and father myself I cannot imagine how heartbroken you must feel, now missing a piece of your family.
“On behalf of the whole wing, I would like to say that we are thinking of you, we are praying for you and we’re here for you.”
Work will begin this morning to remove the bodies from the area, which remains cordoned off.
The crew was from the RAF Lakenheath’s 56th Rescue Sqaudron, and Colonel Robinson paid tribute to their work.
“Their mission is to go anywhere, do anything to save lives, whether it be in Iceland, off the coast of Ireland, or anywhere in Iraq, Afghanistan or any country,” he said
“It’s a very small and tight-knit community. They play a small role behind the scenes - a lot of people who owe their lives to them will probably have no idea who they are.
“You’ll have families around the world this morning, having breakfast with their mother and father, brothers and sisters, or their sons and daughters. Members of that crew certainly helped make that happen.
“Their motto is ‘these things we do, that others may live’. And they lived that way, that’s what they do, they were very good at what they do, and they were training to be part of that mission.”
The four crew members had a range of experience, from a couple of years through 17 years, and Colonel Robinson said it was common for crews to have such a mixture.
He added a “specialised team of highly qualified US Air Force personnel” will convene at RAF Lakenheath to investigate the crash.
Asked whether the crew had sent out any distress signals, Colonel Robinson said: “I’m not aware of any warnings that we had. Obviously we take great care to make sure we operate in the safest fashion and all the rules and missions we follow are the standard ones followed by the MOD.”
Colonel Robinson also said the support from the community and British authorities was “deeply heartfelt”, adding: “I can’t really understate the amount of support we’ve received from the local community here. It’s been absolutely amazing, we certainly appreciate it in our time of need.
“So many times we talk about the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s times like this that really remind you that these aren’t simply words - these are thoughts, words, deeds and actions that we see here today.”
Colonel Robinson confirmed it was a two-ship training operation and the other helicopter involved stopped at the scene to lend assistance.
He added: “We’re obviously concerned about them as well as the entire members of 56th community and their families as well. We have a lot of organisations around the base that provide support.
“The squadron has rallied around them at their side and provided them with what they need at this point. We have families making meals for them, taking care of anything they need. Basically the entire base is rallying round.”
There are no further training exercises scheduled for the squadron this week.