USAF helicopter crash: Pilot Christopher Stover 'truly enjoyed' flying

Captain Stover and his wife Sarah Captain Stover's father Rick Stover paid tribute to his son on behalf of his family

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A pilot who was killed when a United States Air Force (USAF) helicopter crashed died "doing what he truly enjoyed, flying", his father has said.

Capt Christopher Stover, 28, was one of four who died in the crash in Cley next the Sea in north Norfolk on Tuesday.

Capt Sean Ruane, Technical Sgt Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt Afton Ponce also died when the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter came down.

Rick Stover said he was "proud" of his son, who had "touched so many lives".

He also thanked people for the support his family had received.

Special service

The bodies of the crew, who were based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, have been removed from the crash site and will undergo post-mortem examinations at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital later.

Norfolk Coroner Jacqueline Lake said she would not be carrying out an investigation into the deaths because the airmen had a "relevant association with a visiting force" under the Visiting Forces Act 1952 and Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

A special service is to be held this weekend at the church in Salthouse in memory of the four aircrew.

Father Philip Blamire, rector of the Weybourne Group of Parishes, said the Bishop of Lynn, the Right Reverend Jonathan Meyrick, would "preside at the service".

The USAF said no warning or Mayday message was made before the helicopter, from the 48th Fighter Wing, came down.

Afton Ponce, Christopher Stover, Dale Matthews, Sean Ruane Staff Sgt Afton Ponce, Capt Christopher Stover, Technical Sgt Dale Matthews and Capt Sean Ruane were killed

The Pave Hawk was armed with 600 .50-calibre bullets and a 9mm side-arm with 15 bullets, which were scattered across an area the size of a football pitch.

It was on a low-level night training mission, which Col Kyle Robinson, Commander of 48th Wing described as a routine flight.

RAF Lakenheath

  • There has been an American presence at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, since World War Two, and it is the largest USAF military base in UK
  • The 48th Fighter Wing, also known as Liberty Wing, is based there
  • Referred to locally as a "mini America", it is home to 6,000 US personnel and thousands of US and British civilians. Its shops and restaurants accept US dollars, as well as sterling

Captains Stover and Ruane were pilots on the flight, while Tech Sgt Mathews and SSgt Ponce were acting as special mission aviators.

Col Robinson said the crew, who were members of the 56th rescue squadron, were "flying to a gunnery range in Holbeach [Lincolnshire], and used that frequently for training".

The USAF, supported by the Ministry of Defence, will lead the continuing investigation into the circumstances of the crash, with Norfolk Police handing over their inquiry.

A 400-metre police cordon is expected to remain in place at the scene until Monday and the public have been asked to stay away.

Flowers have been left at the gates at RAF Lakenheath and a fundraising page has been set up online to offer financial support to the families.

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Helicopter infographic
  • The HH-60G Pave Hawk, a version of the US Army's Black Hawk helicopter, is used by the US Air Force for combat search and rescue, mainly to recover downed aircrew or other isolated personnel in war zones.
  • The helicopter, made by Sikorsky, has been used in numerous military missions, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as civilian rescue operations after disasters like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka and Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005.
  • The Pave Hawk, which came into service in 1981, has a four-man crew and can carry up to 12 troops.
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