Plans for the final honors for four members of the 106th Rescue Wing, based at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, are still in the works.
The rescue wing’s Public Information Officer, Captain Michael O’Hagan, briefed the press this weekend on the lives of the men who were lost when an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter they were flying crashed on the afternoon of March 15 near the city of Al-Qa’im in western Iraq.
In all, seven men lost their lives in the crash, four of whom were members of the 106th. The airmen were deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the American-led coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Capt. O’Hagan said the cause of the crash is still under investigation, but there is no evidence of enemy involvement.
The four men were members of the 101st Rescue Squadron, one of three flying squadrons that make up the 106th Rescue Wing. The helicopter squadron was set up to perform combat search and rescue operations.
The 106th members killed were Capt. Andrease O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, 30, of Port Jefferson Station, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack.
“We are awaiting the arrival of our fallen heroes from overseas back to Dover Air Force Base … sometime over the next few days, at which point they will be prepared with dignity, honor and respect for their return to their loved ones to travel to their final resting place,” said Capt. O’Hagan, who added that families are still making the determination of where their loved ones will be laid to rest.
“Some members will be traveling back here to Long Island, while others may not,” he said. “We’re waiting for the final decisions of the families on those issues.”
Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe was an HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot. He was a full-time federal civilian employee and an Air Guardsman. He joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2013, after serving 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, Syracuse, N.Y. He deployed to Iraq three times, and to Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and Texas during Hurricane Harvey.
Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs was an HH-60G special missions aviation flight engineer. He joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2010. He was a full time military member with the wing. He previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions system specialist with the 106th Maintenance Group, and to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as a member of the 101st. He leaves behind his wife, Rebecca, his three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.
Capt. Christopher Zanetis, known as “Trip,” was an HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot. He joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2008. Capt. Zanetis was a member of the New York City Fire Department and had recently joined the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City as an associate. He previously deployed to Iraq in 2011, supporting another HH-60G squadron, and Afghanistan with the 101st.
Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso was an HH-60G special missions aviation flight engineer. He joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2001 and was a member of the New York City Fire Department. He previously deployed to Iraq as a fire protection specialist with the 106th Civil Engineering Squadron, twice to Afghanistan with the 101st, once to the Horn of Africa, and to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Nicknamed “Goose,” he turned 39 the day before the crash. He leaves behind his wife, Carmella, and two daughters, ages six and five.
“We will continue your legacy, ‘That Others May Live,'” said Capt. O’Hagan, quoting the 106th’s credo. “This is where we live and serve and our hearts are broken.”
“Everyone absolutely is feeling the weight of this news,” he added. “We serve alongside one another, get to know one another, and we can’t help but be crushed thinking about their families and all those that love them. It’s a state of shock.”
A video of Capt. O’Hagan’s comments is on Facebook here. We will update this post as more memorial information becomes available.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all flags on state buildings to be flown at half staff on Monday, March 19 in honor of the fallen airmen.