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Andreas O’Keeffe identified as Iraq helicopter crash victim

O’Keeffe was a member of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach.

Capt. Michael O'Hagan, public affairs officer for the Air National Guard's106th Air Rescue Wing, said Saturday, March 17, 2018, that the unit is awaiting the arrival of the remains of "fallen heroes" killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware within the next few days.  (Credit: Stringer News Service)

A Center Moriches man has been identified as the fourth New York Air National Guard member who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, officials said Saturday.

Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, was a full-time technician and an Air Guardsman with the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach, according to the Department of Defense, which provided the first official identification of the crash’s seven victims on Saturday.

O’Keeffe, Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station; Master Sgt. Christopher J. Raguso, who turned 39 on Wednesday, of Commack; and Capt. Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, died when their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near the Syrian border while transporting troops from Iraq to Syria, military officials said. They all were members of the 106th Rescue Wing.

“It is with great sadness that I report the loss of four of our wing members,” said Col. Michael Bank, commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, in a statement. “All four of these heroes served their nation and community. Our sincerest condolences and sympathies to the families and friends that have been touched by this tragic event.”

The helicopter was not on a combat mission, and the crash does not appear to be from enemy fire, defense officials said. The cause is under investigation. There were no survivors.

Also killed were Master Sgt. William R. Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl P. Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida. Both were assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron, Air Force Reserve, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Capt. Mark K. Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, also died in the crash.

“Our National Guard family mourns the loss of the seven combat search and rescue Airmen in the HH-60 crash, including four members from the 106th Rescue Wing,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony German, the Adjutant General of New York. “This loss reminds us of the tremendous risks we take in serving our nation every day.”

O’Keeffe joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2013 and was part of its 101st Rescue Squadron. He previously served as an armament systems specialist with the 113th Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard, and RC-26 pilot with the 174th Attack Wing, Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, officials said.

Raguso and Zanetis were members of the FDNY, the first New York City firefighters to die while in active military service since 2004, city officials said.

Raguso, who had a wife and two young daughters, was a 13-year veteran of the FDNY stationed in Queens and a lieutenant in the Commack Fire Department.

Zanetis, a fire marshal, went on leave in 2015 from the FDNY, which he joined a decade ago. He was an attorney with a Manhattan law firm.

Briggs, who left behind a wife and a young son and daughter, was a former All Division football star at Riverhead High School.

“You can’t help but be crushed. It’s a feeling of shock,” said Capt. Michael O’Hagen, the 106th Rescue Wing public information officer, Saturday night in Westhampton Beach.

The bodies of the fallen guardsmen will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the coming days, O’Hagan said.

A family assistance representative will be assigned to loved ones to offer support, O’Hagan said.

“Everyone is feeling the weight of this. Everyone is processing this differently,” O’Hagen said. “Our hearts are broken.”

The 106th Rescue Wing conducts domestic civilian rescue operations and rescue coverage for U.S. and allied forces overseas, according to the unit’s website.

The 106th, which has about 1,000 members — roughly 90 percent from Long Island — has been regularly deploying to war zones since President George W. Bush first began sending troops to Afghanistan following 9/11, according to New York National Guard spokesman Eric Durr.

The current deployment to Iraq began in late January and was expected to last until sometime in June, according to a relative of an airman who deployed.

The crash came nine days before the families of deployed 106th personnel were scheduled to gather for a March 24 “Yellow Ribbon” event, where participants assemble care packages for the deployed troops.

The four Airmen killed on March 15 brings the total number of New York National Guard members who have died in a combat zone since Sept. 11, 2001, to 39. Of those, seven have been members of the New York Air National Guard, officials said.

With Mark Harrington, Robert Brodsky and Martin C. Evans

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