Retired Col. Christopher “Sunshine” Hannon, a former rescue pilot and commander of the 920th Operations Group, 920th Rescue Wing, at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., was killed Feb. 2 when a vehicle struck his bicycle in Vero Beach.
“The loss of Colonel Chris Hannon came as a shock to us all,” said Col. Kurt Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, in a Feb. 16 news release. “It’s still hard for me to believe. He was an incredible husband, father, pilot and leader.
“He had a passion for life, and always had fun,” he continued. “He was taken way too soon. He was my boss, my mentor, and my friend. ... I miss him. Our hearts go out to his wife, Teresa, and daughters, Chelsea and Caitlyn. Chris ‘Sunshine’ Hannon was a legend in the rescue community and we are rallying around them during this tragic time.”
Hannon was an experienced and cautious cyclist, said Lt. Col. Robert Haston of the 301st Rescue Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.
“He wasn’t a daredevil kind of guy,” said Haston. “That’s what’s most shocking about all this. ... He put so many lights on that [bike] that I called it the mothership.”
Apart from his blond hair and fair skin, Hannon’s call sign spoke to his bright, happy-go-lucky personality.
He was a “work hard, play hard” kind of guy, whose two favorite things in life were biking and scuba diving, said Chief Master Sgt. Randy Wells of the 301st Rescue Squadron. Wells remembered him diving under water for an “inordinate” amount of time and resurfacing with a lobster in hand that he had dug out of its hole just for fun.
“I knew Chris Hannon a long time,” said Wells. “He would not want you crying in your beer about him. ... He would not want you here worrying about death.”
Hannon was a command pilot with more than 6,000 flying hours in various aircraft, including the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and HC-130 King. He flew missions in support of special operations forces and combat search and rescue personnel during Operations Northern and Southern Watch, Noble Eagle, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
In 2005, Hannon deployed to Afghanistan and was a member of the rescue team that recovered the final member of the Operation Red Wings mission, Petty Officer Matthew G. Axelson, who was killed in action June 28 that year. Hannon earned a Bronze Star for his actions that summer.
His other awards and decorations include an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two service stars, an Iraqi Campaign Medal with service star, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among others.
Hannon served as commander of the 301st Rescue Squadron from 2005 to 2008 and director of training at Headquarters 10th Air Force, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas.
While he spent the last six years of his Air Force career at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, he spent more than a decade and a half with the 920th Rescue Wing between 1994 and 2011, commanding the 920th Operations Group from December 2009 to September 2011.
He was a humble leader, said Wells, always reminding others to be grateful of their opportunity to serve and always seeing the good in life.
“He was more like a fatherly figure,” said Wells. “When you got chewed out by this guy ... you always felt like your dad was scolding you, and you always felt kind of guilty afterwards.”
He took care of his men, said Haston. They would sing “You are my sunshine,” to Hannon regularly.
“He was sunshine,” said Haston. “I never knew anyone whose call sign fit him better. He was a great guy, greater pilot and the greatest boss.”