The names of four Louisiana National Guardsmen killed last week when their helicopter crashed into Santa Rosa Sound have been released, as work continues at the crash site.
The head of the Louisiana National Guard, Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, identifies the soldiers as Chief Warrant Officers George Griffin Jr and George Strother; and Staff Sergeants Lance Bergeron and Thomas Florich.
“This has been a difficult few days, for really the entire Department of Defense,” said Curtis. “But I know for the Marine Corps and the Louisiana National Guard in particular.”
Three members of the flight crew were from Louisiana and one was from Virginia. They and seven Marines died when their UH-60 Black Hawk went down during a nighttime training mission that originated from Eglin Air Force Base.
The Marines were identified earlier. They are: Capt. Stanford Shaw III; Master Sgt. Thomas Saunders, and Staff Sergeants Marc Bawol, Trevor Blaylock, Liam Flynn, Kerry Kemp, and Andrew Seif.
The commander of Marine Corps special operations forces has said those aboard the aircraft had tried to abort their mission early Tuesday when they decided it was too risky. A second Black Hawk returned to base safely.
Meanwhile, salvage and recovery operations are continuing at the crash site. The chopper was discovered in about 25 feet of water. Andy Bourland at Eglin says they remain in the “emergency-recovery” phase of the operation.
“We continue to have diver teams on-site, the barge continues to be there,” said Bourland. “And we will continue to primarily search for human remains for the foreseeable future.”
Much of that will be determined by the collection of information for both the investigating board and medical examiners, to enable them to declare that they have enough human remains and debris from the chopper to conduct their investigations and confirm identities.
The board already has the Black Hawk’s flight recorder, which was recovered last week. The salvage operation began in the rain and fog that may have contributed to the crash. But over the weekend, Bourland says they caught a break from Mother Nature.
“We finally got some better weather going into the weekend,” Bourland said. “The fog has not been an issue as it was last week. Our teams have been able to work 12-hour shifts beginning at 7:00 a.m.”
The debris pulled from Santa Rosa Sound will be moved to the Hurlburt Field to be examined by investigators. Bourland says the remains have been, and will be, transported to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, which is home to the Defense Department's joint services morgue and mortuary.
Once again, civilian mariners are reminded that the Intercostal Waterway is still closed to the general public, and will reopen upon completion of recovery operations.