NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Members of a seasoned, Louisiana-based National Guard crew who died last week in a helicopter crash off the Florida coast had done tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in humanitarian missions after Gulf Coast hurricanes and in the response to the catastrophic 2010 BP oil spill, military officials said Monday.
The Louisiana National Guard identified the pilots and crew of a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed March 10 in the Santa Rosa Sound along Florida's Panhandle in a nighttime training exercise in dense fog with seven elite Marines aboard. All 11 in the Black Hawk died.
"I couldn't have put up a finer crew," said Col. Patrick Bossetta, a commander over aviation units for the Louisiana National Guard. "Let me put it this way: I would have put my son up with them."
Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, the National Guard's adjutant general, announced the soldiers' identities during a news conference at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans.
The soldiers' remains are being transported to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Burials have not yet been arranged. The names of the Marines killed in the crash were released Friday. The Marines were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Three members of the flight crew were from Louisiana and one was from Virginia. They were described as among the military's most seasoned helicopter pilots and crew.
Piloting the helicopter were Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin Jr. of Delhi, 37, and Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother of Alexandria, 44. Both were decorated veteran pilots. All four of the crew were full-time personnel.
Curtis said it was unknown which pilot was in charge at the time of the accident.
"I don't know that we'll ever know that. And I don't even know if that's really important. The accident happened; it is what it is," Curtis said.
The crash is being investigated by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, based in Fort Rucker, Alabama. That investigation will "try to pinpoint exactly what happened, if it was a mechanical failure, or whatever it was," Curtis said.
Bossetta said the foggy nighttime conditions should not have been a major factor. "What they were doing out there wasn't super complex."
Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of Marine Corps special operations forces, has said they were practicing rappelling down ropes into the water and heading for land, but had decided to abort the mission as too risky.
Also killed on the crew were Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40, of Thibodaux and Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, Fairfax, Virginia.
Military burials with full honors were being planned for the dead.
"Now we can start bringing them back," Curtis said.
He said the delay in releasing the names was due to bad weather including dense fog that's hampered recovery efforts and the nature of the catastrophic crash. He also said the military requires DNA testing to positively identify the dead.
Across Louisiana flags are flying at half-staff until sunset March 20 to honor the dead.
Officials earlier identified the Marines as: Capt. Stanford Henry Shaw III of Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Master Sgt. Thomas Saunders of Williamsburg, Virginia; Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn of Queens, New York; Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock of Lake Orion, Michigan; Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp of Port Washington, Wisconsin; Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif of Holland, Michigan; and Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol from Warren, Michigan.
All were from the 2nd Special Operations Battalion of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.