Helicopter crew honored at memorial service in Sitka

REMEMBERED: Three died in crash off the coast of Washington.

July 13, 2010 

Flight suits and photographs of three U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crewmen who died in a crash July 7 in Washington state are on display at Air Station Sitka July 13, 2010, during a memorial service held in their honor.

JAMES POULSON / DAILY SITKA SENTINAL VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew killed in a crash off the coast of Washington state were honored Tuesday in the small Southeast Alaska town where they were based.

At least 1,000 people attended a memorial service in Sitka that paid tribute to Lt. Sean D. Krueger, 33, of Seymour, Conn.; Adam C. Hoke, 40, of Great Falls, Mont.; and Brett M. Banks, 33, of Rock Springs, Wyo.

The three were killed when their MH-60 Jayhawk crashed last week off La Push, Wash., as they flew home from Astoria, Ore. Krueger, the commander, left a wife and three children. Hoke was single with one child. Banks was married with two children.

"The sting of loss is great as we remember Sean Krueger, Adam Hoke and Brett Banks," Gov. Sean Parnell said. "To the families, friends and communities these men touched, we want you to know Alaskans, all of us, are deeply sorry for this loss."

A fourth crew member -- Lt. Lance D. Leone of Ventura, Calif. -- survived the crash with a broken leg and arm. He was released from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Monday, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The Coast Guard has said it will be some time before officials declare a cause of the crash. Witnesses said the aircraft was flying low and hit power lines at James Island.

Krueger's family was vacationing in Massachusetts at the time of the crash and remained there for his funeral, scheduled Friday in Mashpee, Mass., according to the Daily Sitka Sentinel. Leone also missed Tuesday's hour-long service inside a hangar at Air Station Sitka, but his family members attended.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, spoke of the impenetrable bond that Coast Guardsmen form as they rely on each other in fierce environments like that of Southeast Alaska, witnessing nature at its least hospitable and most sublime extremes. There's no greater compliment than to be described as a great shipmate, and by any measure, the three victims met that standard, he said.

"This is what makes their loss all that much harder to bear," Papp said.

Near the speakers' lectern, a photo of each man killed was propped alongside a flight suit, helmet, boots, a folded flag and a single white rose. At the back of the hangar, there were more photos and tokens of the men's interests: Milk Duds and Dr Pepper for Banks, Coast Guard commendations for Hoke and a soccer ball and referee's jersey for Krueger, a youth soccer coach and referee.

The service concluded with a 21-gun salute, taps and members of Air Station Kodiak performing a fly-by in the rainy, blustery weather.

Papp said he knew it was difficult for the men's children to understand why their parents would choose such a risky profession that kept them away from home at times.

"While they're conducting that mission they're always looking forward to getting back home to see those family members," he said. "These things they did so others might live, and in doing so they served the ultimate sacrifice."

Commanding Officer Doug Cameron of Air Station Sitka also noted the danger of the job.

"We at Sitka do not hope for dark stormy nights to fly through the mountains of southeast Alaska," he told the crowd. "But we are guardians, and if that's what the mission requires, then here we come."

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