His call-sign was Hollywood because he was a star: Airman killed in helicopter crash at Cley had visited area just weeks earlier to help mop-up following floods
- Credit: Ian Burt
A fly-past marked the third anniversary of the deaths of four airmen killed in a helicopter crash in north Norfolk as a memorial was unveiled in their honour.
The mother of an airman killed in a helicopter crash in north Norfolk broke down in tears as she returned to the scene of the tragedy on the third anniversary of his death.
Marcia Ruane, from Pennsylvania, America, was a special guest at the unveiling of a memorial in honour of her 31-year-old son Sean M Ruane, a captain in the United States Air Force (USAF), and his three colleagues - Captain Christopher S Stover, 28; Technical Support Sergeant Dale E Mathews, 37; and Staff Sergeant Afton M Ponce, 28.
They died on a training mission near Cley-next-the-Sea, on January 7, 2014 after a flock of geese brought down their American military aircraft. They were on board an HH-60G Pave Hawk, which was part of 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, when tragedy struck.
Speaking publicly about her loss for the first time, Mrs Ruane revealed her son - whose call sign was 'Hollywood, because he was a star' - had visited the area just three weeks earlier to help with the clean-up after a storm surge devastated communities along the coastline.
You may also want to watch:
Norfolk Wildlife Trust yesterday (Friday) hosted a special dedication ceremony for the memorial at its visitor centre, close to the crash site. It was attended by family and friends of the victims, as well as representatives of the emergency services and local community.
The service was conducted by Reverends Libby Dady, Rector of the Glaven Valley Benefice, and Phil Blamire, Priest-in-charge of the Weybourne Group of parishes, following a fly-past by two helicopters - the same as the one destroyed in the crash - in tribute to the fallen, who were all members of the 56th Rescue Squadron, known as the Jolly Green.
- 1 Man in his 50s dies after head-on collision on A143
- 2 'Never seen anything like it' - Norfolk Christmas shopping frenzy has begun
- 3 'Landmark' former Tuttles store could be set for new lease of life
- 4 How Norfolk are you? Take this quiz to find out
- 5 Chantry Place 'close to finalising deals' with four major brands
- 6 Norfolk RSPCA store appears on Rip Off Britain
- 7 Air ambulance and coastguard attend incident on Sheringham beachfront
- 8 Brown Derbies and Bender sausages, when Wimpy ruled fast food
- 9 Police probing reports Norwich clubbers have been spiked by needles
- 10 Woman who died in A47 collision named
The memorial - which has been created by the East of England Co-op in association with Archant, publishers of the Eastern Daily Press; USAF, and the victims families - is made of Royal Green Granite and includes the regimental crest and a hand-etched picture of a 48th Fighter Wing helicopter.
Mrs Ruane, who revealed she can take comfort in the compassion shown by the community, said: 'We will always come back here.
'My son loved England, the history in this whole area - he was just thrilled to be here. He was so proud to march with the British troops through town on Remembrance Day. Three weeks before the accident happened there was a flood up here and he and a few of his squadron came up to help, so they were familiar with this place.
'It's just special that they have organised this memorial. When we arrived after the tragedy happened they wouldn't let us in the crash site, they had it all sealed off, so we left.' But she added: 'We are so respectful for what the community has done and so proud that we have a connection - we absolutely appreciate it.'
The memorial was crafted by local stonemasons H.L. Perfitt, who also hand carved the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum, and features photographs of each of the airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Speaking during the dedication service, USAF Commander Lt Col Bernard Smith, who revealed the community's tribute was 'truly touching', said: 'What's really special about this memorial is the family members and spouses were involved in its design.
'When you look at it, it has a colour picture of the person so it's not just a name on a plaque, which is still a great tribute.' He added: 'To see that human being and the love in their eyes is special. It's beautiful and something very special to us.'
The USAF Commander, who is in charge of 56 Rescue Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, revealed the support the community had shown them was 'remarkable' and highlighted the bonds which exist between America and the UK.
Lt Col Smith said: 'This is personally one of the hardest times of the year for me, our four brothers and sisters were taken from us far too soon and that pain is very real and is there every day for me. Something that brings me peace, and I know it brings others peace, is the love that we've seen - not just from the people that we know but the strangers that we don't hear often, but we know that are thinking of us.
'The love that you have shown for them is remarkable and it really strengthens the bond that our communities and our countries have - it's something that I, and everyone here, will always cherish.'
Paying tribute to those killed, Lt Col Smith described Staff Sergeant Ponce as 'a beautiful mother and loving wife that was truly dedicated and did so much to make so many people's lives better'.
Technical Support Sergeant Mathews was someone he had known for 10 years and could depend upon. 'He was a rock,' he added.
Captain Stover was a 'battle tested war hero' who 'brought out the greatness in everyone'.
And Captain Ruane, whose mother was among those paying their respects, was 'inspiring'.
He added: 'His call-sign was Hollywood and people would joke it was about his beautiful smile. But it was because he was a star. He was a special individual and everybody wanted to learn from him and even someone like me, who was a leader to him, was inspired and learned from him.
'They were all remarkable airmen and human beings and they saved hundreds of lives in the most dangerous conditions possible, risking it all; and they lost it in a terrible tragedy.'
But he added: 'They lived in tireless devotion to their fellow man - thanks for keeping their memory alive.'
The airmen were described as 'four very special people... working for their belief in a better world'. And those in attendance at the service heard they will forever be remembered in what was described as a 'very special part of the world'.
The EDP's Editor Emeritus Nigel Pickover said: 'We are together to honour and remember four wonderful colleagues and friends who's lives were lost three years ago in this place. Three years gone, four lives lost but the bright lights of their memory shines forever forward. They died in the service of their country - working thousands of miles from home. But in the place, on that day, they were working for their belief in a better world.
'The bonds that tie two nations have been strong through generations and today they are stronger than ever. And that is why the local community here in East Anglia quietly has pursued the aim of establishing this simple memorial.
'From the love of families, friends and colleagues, to the care and respect of those who tried to help on that winter night three years ago, this memorial stone has been worked upon and now founded. Our lost ones will be loved and remembered always and we salute them here today.'
The memorial has been created on land belonging to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and overlooks the nature reserve at Cley.
Brendan Joyce, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: 'At the time of the accident, Norfolk Wildlife Trust was able to work closely with USAF, MOD, RAF, the local police and other agencies to help with the recovery operation. The visitor centre became a military operational base and our staff were on hand to give assistance and provide welcome refreshments. In the process, we became acquainted with the friends, colleagues and family of those who lost their lives and so shared in their grief. Our thoughts will remain with them. Therefore we feel it is a fitting tribute to lay a memorial stone at our visitor centre as a reminder to all.'
Stonemason Nick Hindle added: 'We work on projects that will still be here long after we've gone. To be able to leave your mark on something, that is not just a memorial but a piece of art for all to see, cannot be beaten.'
It was a night that shocked north Norfolk. A sea of blue lights converged on Cley following the tragic events of January 7, 2014 when a military helicopter crashed near the shoreline killing all four of its crew.
And, as a memorial was unveiled in their honour this week, community leaders revealed they would not forget them.
Councillor John Lee, chairman of North Norfolk District Council, said: 'It was a shocking event, something like that has a huge impact on the community when it happens right on your doorstep.
'I think it makes you more aware of the Armed Forces, especially the RAF and USAF; many people probably don't realise they are doing what they are doing. It's important that we recognise the work that USAF do here and commemorate those who lost their lives.'
Rev Phil Blamire, Priest-in-charge of the Weybourne Group of parishes, added: 'I think the impact (on the community) was quite profound, and it still is. And having a memorial here is absolutely appropriate and something which will be there for all time for people to remember what happened.'
The emergency services have been praised for their response to the major incident.
Assistant Chief Constable Mike Fawcett, who represented Norfolk Constabulary at the dedication ceremony, said: 'The thing not to forget is that four young people lost their lives serving their country in a tragic accident. It's difficult for the emergency services but it's more difficult for those individuals and their families.'