RAINIER, Wash. (AP) – The parents of one of the four Army aviators killed when two helicopters crashed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord say their son was a veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Silvia Buoniconti of Colorado Springs told The Colorado Springs Gazette that her son, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Frank Buoniconti III, was among those killed in Monday night’s accident.
“He was a great guy,” she told the newspaper Tuesday. “I’m so in shock and so is my husband.”
Her son followed his father into the military, serving three overseas tours. He joined up because “he felt it was the right thing to do,” she said.
That service included preparing dinner for fellow soldiers, his mother said.
“He loved to cook, he loved to bake,” she said.
Frank Buoniconti confirmed his son was among those killed but declined further comment to The Associated Press.
The Army has not yet identified the dead pending full notification of relatives.
Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said an investigative team from Fort Rucker, Ala., arrived Tuesday night in Seattle and planned to begin its investigation Wednesday.
The Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker will lead the overall investigation. Dangerfield said that could take as long as a year.
The remains of the four dead were removed from the scene Tuesday as members of their unit took time to grieve the loss.
The two-seat reconnaissance choppers crashed after 8 p.m. Monday in the southwest training area of the sprawling base, killing all four on board, according to the Army.
It remained unclear whether the aircraft collided or crashed separately.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Oliphant, an aviation safety officer at the base, said the aviators’ colleagues have halted further activity as they analyze and grieve the tragedy.
“Right now the organization will stand down to begin the healing process,” Oliphant said.
Buoniconti, 36, graduated from Doherty High School in Colorado Springs. He is survived by his wife and four children. They lived most recently in Dupont, Wash., near the base, KOMO-TV reported.
Dangerfield said the airmen’s remains were taken to Madigan Army Medical Center.
The aircraft involved were OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, often called scout helicopters. The single-engine, four-bladed aircraft are used for armed reconnaissance.
Oliphant said the airmen were on a routine night training flight, but he did not know specifically what they were doing before the crash. The weather was clear when Oliphant arrived to the scene late Monday. He wasn’t sure whether the helicopters had collided, but he said they scattered a wide debris field, with most of it spreading across a 300-meter area.
“With moving aircraft, there could be debris anywhere throughout the woods,” he said. Additional military vehicles arrived Tuesday to help secure the scene.
The helicopters went down a couple miles from the community of Rainier, which is south of Tacoma.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is one of the largest bases in the country, with about 100,000 military and civilian personnel. In December 2006, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from Fort Lewis crashed southeast of Seattle during a night training mission, killing all three aboard.
“One loss is one too many,” Dangerfield said. “Any time you lose a soldier, it’s like losing a brother or a sister. It hurts.”
By MIKE BAKER, Associated Press
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