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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, July 1, 2005

Pearl SEALs killed or MIA

 •  A tribute to Pearl Harbor's Navy SEALs

By Mike Gordon and Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writers

Navy SEALs from Pearl Harbor were killed this week in a helicopter crash during a rescue mission in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, according to a Navy family member who was notified of the deaths.

From Pearl Harbor to Kabul, military officials yesterday did not release much information about the victims. But the Navy family member told The Advertiser that commanders at Pearl Harbor held a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. yesterday to tell relatives and staff that six members of SEAL Delivery Team One were unaccounted for in the helicopter crash.

Yesterday, military officials in Kabul said all 16 people aboard the MH-47 Chinook helicopter died in the crash, including eight SEALs assigned to units in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego, which includes SEALs based at Pearl Harbor. Initial reports that 17 service members died were incorrect, according to Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan.

Their identities will not officially be released until family members have been notified.

Dan Healy, 36, was among 16 American soldiers killed when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down this week by insurgents in Afghanistan, his mother said. Healy, a 1986 graduate of Exeter (NH) High School, was on a six-month tour of the Middle East since March.

Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, NH

Last night, the Web site of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper identified one of the Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs as Senior Chief Petty Officer Dan Healy, 36.

"He was a lovely young man who loved his children, his family, his service," his mother, Natalie Healy of Exeter, N.H., told the newspaper. "He was proud to serve his country. He was very happy to have the opportunity to fight."

Dan Healy was a 1986 graduate of Exeter High School. He had been in the Navy for at least 15 years and was stationed at Pearl Harbor, said Natalie Healy.

He had four children — two who live in San Diego and two who live in Honolulu. Other survivors include two sisters, Jennifer, 36, of San Diego, and Shannon, 22, of Exeter, his mother told the newspaper.

Healy was sent overseas in March for a six-month tour, Natalie Healy said.

Healy's children were the focus of his life, despite his having to move a lot, she said.

"His greatest joy was being with his children," Healy told the newspaper. "He loved to enjoy life. He loved his friends."

The Chinook, which apparently was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, was on a rescue mission to find four SEALs in eastern Afghanistan. All four remain missing.

The family member who spoke to The Advertiser said that before yesterday's meeting at the SEAL team's Pearl City Peninsula headquarters, a commander called her to say that a helicopter carrying SEALs from Pearl Harbor crashed in Afghanistan but that her husband, who also is a SEAL, was not aboard. She was asked to attend a meeting where family members would be briefed on the situation.

At the meeting, Navy commanders said six members of the Pearl Harbor SEAL team were unaccounted for. Three were listed as missing and presumed dead, and the other three were listed as missing in action, the family member said.

One of the wives of the six missing SEAL members was at the meeting, said the family member, who asked not be named because of the sensitive nature of her spouse's mission in Afghanistan. The six SEALs are based in Hawai'i but were not born or raised here.

Cmdr. Jeff Bender, spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, would not discuss the Hawai'i meeting but did say that SEAL communities in Virginia and San Diego had been briefed "on the events of the last 48 hours."

Also among the deceased were seven soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and one soldier from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Some names reported

This photo provided by the Reich family shows U.S. Army Maj. Steve Reich and his wife, Jill Reich, who married March 19. Reich, a graduate of Shepaug Valley High School and the U.S. Military Academy, was killed in Tuesday's helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

The names of some of the Navy and Army personnel killed in the crash surfaced yesterday in various media reports:

• Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Taylor, 30, of Little Creek, Va., was one of the Navy SEALs aboard the helicopter, The Associated Press reported. It was not known last night if he was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Taylor is survived by his wife, Erin. They have no children.

• Army Maj. Steve Reich, 34, of Washington, Conn., was a company commander and pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation regiment. He was a newlywed, having married his wife, Jill, in March, according to The Associated Press.

Reich pitched briefly in the minor leagues and carried the American flag as a member of Team USA at the 1993 World University Games.

Army Master Sgt. Michael Russell, then a staff sergeant, is shown with his wife, Annette, in an undated photo provided by his family. According to his family, Russell, who lived in Savannah, Ga., was among 16 U.S. service members killed when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province. The Taliban claims it shot down the aircraft with a rocket-propelled grenade.

• Army Master Sgt. Michael Russell, 31, of Fredericksburg, Va., a flight engineer, was serving his sixth tour in Afghanistan since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the Free Lance-Star newspaper of Fredericksburg.

He is survived by his wife, Annette, and two daughters. Russell and Reich were based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.

• Army Sgt. 1st Class James W. "Tre" Ponder III of Clarksville, Tenn., was among those aboard the helicopter, his father-in-law told the Tennessean newspaper of Nashville. He had been deployed for only three weeks. He had a wife, Leslie, and two daughters. Ponder was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Recon team under fire

SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, based at Pearl Harbor, has 45 officers and 230 enlisted personnel — 93 of them Sea, Air, Land commandos — and provides special operations forces in the Pacific and Central Command areas. That team has deployed elements in support of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Team Two is based at Little Creek, Va., and conducts operations throughout the Atlantic, Southern and European areas.

The events that led to the tragedy began when a helicopter inserted a four-man reconnaissance team from Little Creek into mountains near Asadabad, in Kunar province. Intelligence had indicated a large enemy force, according to military sources quoted in the Army Times.

The SEALs hiked to a spot in rugged terrain where they established an observation post. Within several hours, al-Qaida or Taliban forces attacked with small-arms fire, and the SEALs called for help, the sources said.

A quick-reaction force, or QRF, consisting of at least two MH-47 Chinooks from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, flew toward the beleaguered SEALs. It is not clear whether the SEALs on the ground were still at the observation post or had moved to evade their attackers. When the helicopters arrived near the observation post, a rocket-propelled grenade hit one of the Chinooks.

The pilots of a second aircraft on the mission saw and reported that their sister ship had been hit by an RPG, said Marine Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations on the Joint Staff, in a Pentagon news conference yesterday.

The Chinook was fired upon as it approached its landing zone at dusk, Col. Jim Yonts, spokesman for U.S. operations in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press. The aircraft flew on but crashed about a mile away, he said. If Yonts' account is accurate, that would indicate that the four SEALs had not been picked up.

Movement spotted

The stricken Chinook, from the 160th's 3rd Battalion, stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., either crashed into or tried to land on a mountainside, but rolled down the steep slope into a ravine, according to military officials.

"We were right in that valley," an Army pilot who was previously deployed to Afghanistan told the Army Times. "It's very steep and it's unforgiving terrain."

A Predator unmanned aerial vehicle captured images of movement around the crash site and infrared strobes of the type U.S. special operators use in emergencies, a military source told the Army Times. "There was definitely movement around the aircraft," the source said.

The Washington Post reported that the Predator also crashed or was shot down.

In addition, U.S. forces detected a PRC-112 survival radio beacon emitting from the vicinity of the helicopter, the military source said. The beacon appeared to be moving. "The last location was a good distance away from the crash," he said.

By yesterday, U.S. forces had secured the crash site and recovered "all 16 bodies of those servicemen who were on board the MH-47 helicopter that crashed," Conway said.

As part of the U.S. military rescue operation, Marines established "blocking positions" to prevent enemy forces from reaching the site, a Pentagon official said. Rangers secured the crash site itself, he added.

A Pentagon official told Army Times that there were still four men "unaccounted for — the original four that were in trouble."

Reach Mike Gordon at 525-8012 or at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com. Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.