All 11 remains of the Marines and National Guardsmen who died last week in a helicopter crash off the coast of northwestern Florida have been recovered. The Louisiana National Guard released the names of the four unidentified Guardsmen on Monday. Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, scheduled a news conference late Monday morning at the Jackson Barracks Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to the Associated Press.
"It was a catastrophic accident – and it was over water – so the combination of that with the weather made it very difficult to conduct search and rescue initially, and the recovery after that," Curtis said, according to the Pensacola News Journal. Identifying the soldiers and returning them home for burial was the first step toward closure, and that training missions would resume Monday, Curtis added. "You have to show that you care, but you can't wither. We will continue to train and move forward,” Curtis said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered flags at the state Capitol and all other state buildings and institutions to fly at half-staff until sunset March 20 to honor the four National Guard members and seven Marines.
All on board were killed when the Black Hawk helicopter crashed into the 25-foot-deep water last Tuesday. The search went on for a few days, and parts of the helicopter wreckage were found off the coast of Florida two days later. Human remains washed ashore around the same time the helicopter was found. The identities of the seven Marines were revealed soon after the search but the National Guardsmen's identities were withheld. The Marines were part of a Camp Lejeune-based special operations group, and the soldiers were from a National Guard unit based in Hammond, Louisiana.
The four National Guardsmen’s identities are:
- Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin Jr., 37
- Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother, 44
- Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40
- Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich (age not immediately available)
Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Corps special operations forces, said the victims were practicing rappelling down ropes into the water and heading for land, but decided to abort the mission as it was too risky, according to AP. The crash is being investigated by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, based in Fort Rucker, Alabama.