Body of local Air Force pilot back in U.S.

Evergreen grad was one of four killed in England copter crash

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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The bodies of four airmen killed in a helicopter accident, including Capt. Christopher S. Stover of Vancouver, have been transferred to the United States.

The bodies arrived Monday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after being airlifted from RAF Mildenhall, England. Dover is the site of a military mortuary center.

According to Air Force officials, Stover was piloting the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter when it crashed Jan. 7 in a training flight near the English coast. Also killed were Capt. Sean M. Ruane, Tech. Sgt. Dale E. Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton M. Ponce, all with the 56th Rescue Squadron from RAF Lakenheath.

Their flight was a low-altitude training mission over a nature reserve near Salthouse, England, about 50 miles from their base.

The BBC reported Monday that a memorial service will be Friday at RAF Lakenheath.

Stover, 28, was a 2004 graduate of Evergreen High School. His parents are Maribel and Richard Stover of Vancouver. According to a family friend, Capt. Stover might be buried at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. A Clark County memorial service for Stover is tentatively planned for late January, said the family friend, who didn't want to be identified.

In England, there were several formal tributes Sunday for the airmen. They included a candlelight service in Salthouse, a coastal village just a few hundred yards from the scene of the Jan. 7 crash.

According to British press reports, four candles were lit in honor of the four airmen. As each candle was lit at the beginning of the service, Bishop Jonathan Meyrick lifted his hands above it and recited the first name of each crew member: "Christopher, Sean, Dale and Afton."

British journalist Alex Hurrell reported that the Salthouse Church congregation included five members of Wells and Cley Coastguard who had taken part in the rescue mission. They attended the service in uniform.

As Hurrell wrote, their station officer, Steven Willsher, said: "They were search and rescue and we are, too. Sadly, in this case, our search was not necessary and the rescue was unobtainable."

An online fund to raise money for the families of the crew has reached more than $33,000. Information is at www.gofundme.com/64f4s8.

No details have been released about the cause of the accident, and officials say the investigation could take several weeks. Some media outlets have speculated that the aircraft may have been struck by waterfowl as the helicopter flew low over the salt marsh.