A Jan. 17 memorial service attended by more than 2,000 people paid tribute to the four airmen killed in a Jan. 7 HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crash in England.
Capt. Sean Ruane, Capt. Christopher Stover, Tech. Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce of the 56th Rescue Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, were killed while performing a low-level training mission on the Norfolk coast.
“We seek to find meaning in their sacrifice,” Col. Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said at the Lakenheath service. “These airmen go anywhere, anytime, under fire. They never sought out the spotlight. They are the quiet professionals.”
“The things that they do are so that others can live. ... They were wingmen to all of us,” he said.
Family, friends, and thousands of military members, along with first responders from Cley-Next-the-Sea and Salthouse, attended the service.
Ruane, 31, grew up in Coraopolis, Pa., and became an Air Force pilot in 2007. He was first assigned to the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and eventually made his way to the 56th RQS, where he deployed twice to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife, Rachael, and son, Liam.
Stover, 28, grew up in Vancouver, Wash. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2008 and went on to train with the 37th Flying Training Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. He became a helicopter pilot in 2009, and, like Ruane, joined the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody. He left Moody with his wife, Sarah, for RAF Lakenheath in July 2013.
Growing up in Rolling Prairie, Ind., Mathews, 37, entered active duty out of high school in 1994. His first assignment was at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., with the 552nd Component Repair Squadron. He deployed twice under Operations Southern Watch and Desert Thunder. He retrained to become a flight engineer and eventually flew on MI-17s and then the HH-60. He also deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. Mathews has a son Keelan and daughter Meagan, and is survived by his wife, Kim, and their two children, Michayla and Logan.
Ponce, 28, of Priest River, Idaho, joined the Air Force in 2004, and was assigned to Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., as part of the Air Force Honor Guard. She performed more than 490 ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. She moved in 2008 to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where she gave birth to her son Maverick in 2009 and trained to become an aerial gunner. She met her husband and fellow airman, Andy, and they married in 2011. She gave birth to their son, Xavier, a year later while stationed in England.
Lt. Col. Jared Herbert, 56th RQS commander, retired the “Jolly 22’’ call sign of the HH-60 that went down, and presented medals to the families of the fallen airmen to recognize their distinguished accomplishments and military service.
F-15s from the 492nd, 493rd and 494th Fighter Squadrons performed the missing man formation aerial salute.
A crash investigation is ongoing.