By Debbie Gregory.
In his last moment, Navy Lt. Steven Combs was thinking of saving the lives of his fellow crew members. When his C-2A Greyhound failed only miles from the USS Ronald Reagan, the 28-year-old pilot decided to land on the water.
Combs ultimately saved the lives of eight of the 11 people aboard the aircraft, but he perished, alongside Seaman Matthew Chialastri and Seaman Apprentice Bryan Grosso.
A three-day search for their bodies proved unsuccessful.
Those final actions, which allowed rescuers to retrieve the eight survivors within 45 minutes of the crash, did not surprise anyone who knew Combs.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these Sailors,” said Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet. “Their service and sacrifice will be lasting in Seventh Fleet and we will continue to stand the watch for them, as they did bravely for all of us.”
While the crash, which is the third fatal incident involving the U.S. 7th Fleet based in Japan in the last six months, is under investigation, there is speculation that the plane may have suffered a rare double engine failure.
Elizabeth Combs, speaking on behalf of her family, whose grief she called “tremendous,” said that her brother’s ability to save the lives of a majority of the plane’s passengers makes him the hero that they always knew he was.
“That aircraft is not meant to do a water landing and he was able to land it in a way that let people get back to their family,” Elizabeth added.
“It does help a little bit, that even in his last moment he was looking out for others. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”
The actions of the other crewman, who helped removed the survivors from the plane, were also heroic.
The November 22nd crash was the first fatal C-2 crash since the Naval Safety Center began collecting data on such incidents, 37 years ago.
The USS Ronald Reagan held a memorial service to commemorate the three sailors who died in the crash.
The Navy is considering a posthumous award for Combs’ actions.