Prayers and tributes for victims of north Norfolk helicopter crash tragedy

Prayers are being said for the young American air crew killed in a helicopter crash at Cley on the idyllic north Norfolk coast.

Capt Christopher Stover, of the American servicemen killed in the Cley helicopter crash.

Capt Christopher Stover, of the American servicemen killed in the Cley helicopter crash. - Credit: Archant

Tributes were paid to the four crew members officially named last night by RAF Lakenheath after their Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while on a training exercise over the normally tranquil surroundings of Cley-next-the-Sea on Tuesday night.

Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce pictured during her time as a mentor at the Tragedy Assistance Program fo

Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce pictured during her time as a mentor at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors camp, which helps children and families come to terms with losing a loved one. - Credit: Archant

They were named as Captains Christopher S Stover, 28, and Sean M Ruane, 31, Technical Support Sergeant Dale E Mathews, 37, and Staff Sergeant Afton M Ponce, 28, believed to be a mother.

The four were identified as preparations are made to remove their bodies from the crash site today as the investigation into the cause of the tragic incident continues.

Colonel Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, led tributes to the crew killed in the crash and their heartbroken families who have experienced such a 'tragic, sudden loss'.

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There were unconfirmed reports that president Barack Obama has contacted the US airbase in Suffolk to offers his condolences.

Police continue to lead on the inquiry on behalf of Her Majesty's Coroner Jacqueline Lake and are being assisted by other agencies including the Ministry of Defence and US Air Force.

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Yesterday these agencies examined the scene of the crash which has also been visited by the coroner, to establish the safest and most respectful way of removing the deceased and the wreckage.

The aircraft and those who died remained in situ overnight as their removal could disrupt evidence although the removal of the bodies was expected to take place today.

Tributes to the air crew killed in the crash have been led by officials at RAF Lakenheath where a press conference was to be held this morning.

Colonel Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said: 'We continue to think of the loved ones who are experiencing such a tragic, sudden loss.

'The Liberty Wing feels as though it has lost members of its family, and we stand by to support one another and these airmen's families during this difficult time.'

Tributes have been paid online to Capt Sean Ruane, who leaves behind his wife Rachel and their young son Liam.

His cousin Brian Meyer tweeted: 'My cousin died in a helicopter crash tonight. Pretty tore up about this.

'Everyone: thanks for all the kindness. I'll pass it along to his wife and child when we see each other soon.'

Mateo Spencer wrote: 'Rest in Peace to my friend Sean Ruane, aircraft pilot downed in a crash in England today.'

Mrs Ruane described her husband as 'outgoing and dedicated to others' on a wedding website at the time of their marriage in July 2011.

She said: 'Sean is a pilot in the air force and he flies Pave Hawk rescue helicopters. I am so proud of what he does and that he has chosen to serve our country.

'Sean is outgoing and loves to spend time with his friends and family. His dedication to others is one of his best attributes. There are very few men like him.

'I consider myself very blessed because Sean is my perfect match and we have so much to look forward to.'

It has been reported Capt Stover, 28, who grew up in Vancouver, was serving a three-year deployment in England, and also did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his family. He was married in November 2012 to his wife, who lives in England.

Air accident, RAF and US investigators spent yesterday at the scene of the tragedy, where debris is believed to have been strewn across an area the size of a football pitch.

A statement from 48th Fighter Wing said that the helicopter was performing a low-level training mission along the coast when the crash took place.

The investigation is being hampered because it was carrying munitions, meaning that bullets are scattered around the scene, investigators said.

Norfolk Police confirmed paramedics were not needed to treat those inside the helicopter, suggesting they died on impact or soon after.

A 400m police cordon is expected to remain in place at the scene until Monday and the public have been asked to stay away.

Investigators are aware of how much ammunition was on board and are attempting to account for it all.

Two USAF Pave Hawk HH60 helicopters were involved in the training activity and following the crash the second aircraft landed nearby to assist, and remains at the scene.

A derivative of the more famous Black Hawk helicopter, the Pave Hawk gets its name from the Pave acronym standing for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment.

They are used for combat search and rescue, mainly to recover downed aircrew or other isolated personnel in theatres of war.

Comment – Page 30

Shock and sadness – Pages 4 and 5

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