Military chiefs attend poignant service at Salthouse Church to remember four tragic helicopter crew
15:20 12 January 2014
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2013
Four lit candles standing on the altar of Salthouse Church this morning were a poignant reminder of the four American lives lost earlier this week a short distance away on the remote north Norfolk marshes.
US and British military chiefs joined coastguards and members of the public for a service of prayer attended by the Bishop of Lynn, Rt Rev Jonathan Meyrick, to remember the tragic helicopter crew.
Sitting in the front pew was Col Mark Ciero, vice commander of RAF Lakenheath where the four - Captains Sean Ruane and Christopher Stover, Technical Sergeant Dale Mathews and Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce - had been based.
And alongside the American chief was Gp Ctn Harvey Smyth, station commander of RAF Marham.
Salthouse’s ancient church stands on a hill above the village, almost overlooking the crash site, between Salthouse and Cley.
On the coast road directly below, police manned road blocks to prevent people entering the crash zone.
A sparkling, frosty morning and skeins of wild geese flying overhead belied the grim work which is still going on at the site to try and discover why the Pave Hawk search and rescue aircraft crashed during a low-flying night exercise on January 7.
The three men and one woman crew of the search and rescue helicopter were remembered in prayers and in the bishop’s sermon.
And afterwards the bishop said that a memorial service was likely to be held in the church at a later date, if the idea met the approval of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath.
“Something like this affects a much wider group of people than those who have died,” he said.
“I hope that people will have got from today’s service a sense that the community here is holding everybody in their prayers, and a sense of the sustaining comfort that God can provide.”
Col Ciero said he had spent the week at the crash site and attending the service had been an opportunity for him to view the tragedy in a reverent way.
“We are here as guests in your community. Many people in East Anglia have sent their condolences and this week I have felt the love and affection of the community and their strong support,” he added.
“We felt connected to the folk up here already because we have a long history of flying operations in this area.
“I found the service humbling - and it was a blessing to be able to attend it. The mood at Lakenheath is, of course, solemn - but we are moving forward.”
■ Buy tomorrow’s EDP for a full report and more pictures from the service.