The commander of RAF Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing has paid tribute to the four “great airmen” killed in a helicopter crash in Norfolk on Tuesday.
Colonel Kyle Robinson said Captains Christopher Stover and Sean Ruane and Sergeants Dale Mathews and Afton Ponce made the “ultimate sacrifice while training to save the lives of others”.
Speaking at a press conference at the base this morning, Col Robinson said: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of these great airmen. They have made the ultimate sacrifice while training to save the lives of others.”
He said the crew had varying levels of experience, ranging from “a couple of years to 16 or 17 years”.
“The more experienced people fly with the less experienced people, and that was the case here,” he said. “They were all highly qualified and capable.”
Col Robinson said the community at the former British air base had rallied around the grieving families.
He also said the response to the crash further affirmed the special relationship that existed between the US and the UK.
Sending his condolences to the families of the airmen, he said: “As a husband and father myself, I cannot imagine how heartbroken you must feel, now missing a part of your family.
“I speak for the entire wing when I say that we’re thinking of you, we’re praying for you and we’re here for you.
“I would also like to thank the United Kingdom, both civilian and military authorities, including our neighbours, for their incredible support during this difficult time.
“So many times we talk about the ‘special relationship’ between the US and United Kingdom. It’s at times like these that remind you that these are not just words. They play a small role behind the scenes. There will be families having
breakfast round the table this morning - fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers. Members of that crew made that happen.
“Their motto was ‘these things we do that others might live’. That was the way they lived their lives.
“Our first and primary concern is to take care of the families. We have a team providing support to the families, from our chaplains to our medical support.
“The entire base has really rallied around them. We are by their side - it’s a team effort. We have families making meals for them and helping with whatever they need.
“I can’t overstate the amount of support we have had from the local community here. It’s amazing and we really appreciate that in our time of need. I’d like to thank the community for their support.”
Norfolk police confirmed today that work has started to remove the bodies from the crash scene.
Chief Superintendent Bob Scully said: “Police and other agencies remain on scene today as the investigation continues and will ensure the recovery of the bodies is dignified and respectful.
“Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of the military personnel who lost their lives in this tragic incident.
“The scene is on difficult ground and the longer term investigation and recovery work will take many more weeks.”