The father of one of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord airmen killed in Monday night's helicopter crash remembers his son as a "good husband and a good father."
Army officials offered few clues as to what might have gone wrong when two helicopters crashed Monday night southeast of Lacey, killing all four of the crew in what was supposed to be a routine training exercise.
The accident was an unexpected dose of tragedy at a time when the vast majority of Joint Base Lewis-McChord troops have returned from overseas deployment and families of tight-knit flight crews prepared to celebrate the holiday season.
“He was a good husband and a good father, and is going to be missed dearly,” said Frank Buoniconti, Jr., of Colorado Spring, Colo., who said his son, Chief Warrant Officer 3, Frank Buoniconti III, a father of four, who perished in the crash. “We are grieving as well for the other three families that are suffering.”
Buoniconti said his son was the type of guy who would look after other soldiers who might be alone on the holidays, and make sure they were invited to his house and treated well. “He would not only do that on the holidays. He would do that year-round.”
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On Wednesday morning, the Army released the names of the other avatiors killed in the crash: Capt. Anne M. Montgomery, 25, a native of North Dakota; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joseph S. Satterfield, 32, a native of Alaska; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lucas Daniel Sigfrid, 32, a native of Alabama.
Both helicopters were Kiowa OH-58Ds, two-seater aircraft used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan for reconnaissance and support of ground troops. A double crash raises the possibility of a collision. But Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Oliphant said he would not speculate.
The helicopters crashed sometime after 8 p.m. at an aviation-training site. Response teams found debris spread over a wide area.
“We’ve cordoned off a huge area. But I was out there and I could still see stuff that was beyond the area,” Oliphant said.
The deaths have had a devastating impact on crews, Oliphant said. Base helicopter teams are standing down while the human loss is absorbed and grieved, he said.
Army officials said the bodies of all four airmen had been removed from the aircraft and their remains escorted to Madigan Army Medical Center.
“We … want to make sure that we put our arms around the families and show them our support, and let them know we are going to be there for them,” said Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, a base public-affairs officer.
A seven-person team from Fort Rucker, Ala. is scheduled Wednesday to begin a crash investigation. It will examine training, maintenance and other factors that may have contributed to the accident.
The goal is to find out what lessons can be learned and to recommend what steps may be taken to prevent similar accidents, said Mike Negard, a public-affairs officer for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, which is sending in the investigative team.
Army officials did not comment on weather conditions Monday night. It was a cold, with pockets of fog sometimes reducing visibility in areas of South Puget Sound.
The weather station at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord air station did not report fog. But the Olympia Regional Airport reported some major changes in the weather, with no fog at 8 p.m. and less than a mile visibility because of fog by 10 p.m., according to a National Weather Service official.
Local conditions at the crash site could have varied considerably from both McChord and the Olympia weather station, according to Johnny Burg, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a major hub for Army aviation, and the Kiowas are an important part of its aviation fleet and elsewhere in the Army.
In October, at Fort Rucker, Army officials temporarily grounded that post’s fleet of OH-58D Kiowas due to concern about a newly installed flight-control component. That problem was fixed, and the component that under scrutiny was installed only on Fort Rucker helicopters, according to an Army public-affairs officer.
The Army tracks how often a helicopter is ready to go, rather than sidelined for scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. Army officials said the Kiowa has a “mission capable rate” of 84 percent rate, the highest of any Army aviation rotatory aircraft, according to an Army statement.
“A tough bird”
“This is the most successful helicopter program in the Army, no doubt,” said retired Lt. Gen. William “Bud” Forster,” in a statement released by the Army in July. “It’s a tough bird. It’s an infantryman’s helicopter. In Iraq, commanders canceled night patrols when there was no Kiowa helicopter (to provide air defense). That’s how important and how precious this aircraft is.”
This was the second accident within six weeks to claim the lives of Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers.
In early November, one base soldier died and four others were injured when their Stryker vehicle overturned during a training exercise at Fort Irwin in California.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
News researcher David Turim contributed to this report.