On a Delaware tarmac that has seen more than its share of tears, family members Monday greeted the remains of four members of the Long Island-based 106th Air Rescue Wing who perished last week in a helicopter crash near Iraq’s border with Syria, according to a spokesman for the unit.
The four — Master Sgt. Chris Raguso, 39, of Commack; Staff Sgt. Dashan J. Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station; Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, of Center Moriches; and Captain Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City — died Thursday when an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq.
All were members of the 101st Squadron, a unit of the 106th that flies rescue helicopters in concert with personnel from the wing’s two other squadrons, according to Michael O’Hagan, spokesman for the 106th.
Their remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base late Sunday aboard a giant C-17 aircraft, and were carried from its cargo hold by a procession of seven airmen during a dignified transfer early Monday, O’Hagan said.
The crash killed a total of seven service members.
A spokeswoman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, Jennifer Vallee, said the office had begun performing autopsies, a process that is expected to take one or two days. The remains of the airmen will be released to families once they are completed, Vallee said.
At the Westhampton Beach airfield that houses the 106th, a unit within the New York Air National Guard, a makeshift shrine of flowers grew at the base of a flagpole that stands near the airfield’s gated entrance. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had ordered flags statewide to be flown at half-staff.
O’Hagan said Wing Commander Col. Michael Bank and Chief Master Sgt. Mike Hewson had personally gone to homes to notify the next of kin.
O’Hagan said the base has designated airmen to serve as personal assistants to grieving families, helping with everything from running grocery-store errands to answering the phone. He said grief counselors have been made available to all base personnel.
“Every person, no matter who you are, if you’re part of the 106th, you have been touched by this,” O’Hagan said. “But we’re military, so we’re still ready, through grief and processing this. We’re still doing the job.”