Local News

Family friend: North Idaho airman killed in England chopper crash

SPOKANE, Wash. - Airman killed England crash vo

One of the four airmen killed in the crash of a U.S. Air Force Pave Hawk helicopter on the English coast is from North Idaho.

Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce, assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing out of RAF Lakenheath, was among the four airmen who were killed when their Pave Hawk crashed on the Norfolk coast Tuesday evening during a low-level nighttime training flight.

According to a family friend, Afton Marie Thornton, who later married Andy Ponce, attended Priest River Lamanna High School and graduated in 2003. An obituary for her father, Therien Thornton, in 2007 indicates she has two brothers and two sisters. Ponce's father was a Marine who served in Vietnam while her brother Ethan served in the Army and her brother Ivan served in the Marine Corps.

Two pilots -- Capt. Christopher S. Stover and Capt. Sean M. Ruane -- and Tech. Sgt. Dale E. Mathews -- who was serving as a special mission aviator along with Ponce on the flight -- were identified by the 48th Fighter Wing as the other three airmen killed in the crash.

The Oregonian reported Wednesday Capt. Stover was a native of Vancouver, Wash.

"The loss of our Liberty Wing brethren is felt deeply across RAF Lakenheath," said Col. Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander. "I can only imagine the hurt and sorrow felt by the family and friends of these Airmen. You are in our hearts and minds. We're already feeling a great sense of support from across the Air Force and from our UK neighbors as we go through this difficult period. Thank you for keeping our Airmen and their families in your thoughts and prayers."

The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, which is based off the UH-60 Black Hawk airframe, is used for combat search and rescue missions and typically carries a four-person aircrew of pilot, co-pilot and two special mission aviators who serve as both engineers and gunners.

The U.S. Air Force is coordinating recovery efforts along with UK civilian and military authorities at the crash site.

The Pave Hawk crash Tuesday was the first of two fatal mishaps involving military aircraft this week. On Wednesday, a Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon crashed off the southern Virginia coast, which killed one sailor, injured three others while a fifth sailor is missing at sea.