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NEW ORLEANS – The Black Hawk helicopter that crashed in dense fog during a March 10 training mission in Florida was piloted by a veteran flight crew with the Louisiana National Guard based in Hammond. All were killed.
Here are some of their stories:
GEORGE WAYNE GRIFFIN JR.
With more than 6,000 flight hours, Chief Warrant Officer George Wayne Griffin was a respected and decorated veteran described by his commanders as one of the finest helicopter pilots they had. He was a full-time pilot attached to a Black Hawk unit based in Hammond.
Previously he worked as an offshore oil industry helicopter pilot, said Col. Patrick Bossetta, an aviation commander. He once successfully landed a helicopter experiencing engine problems in the Gulf of Mexico, Bossetta said.
He had more than 1,000 flight hours during combat, served in Iraq twice and was deployed during Hurricane Katrina as well as other major hurricanes to hit Louisiana. He also was involved in response efforts to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
"He had a tremendous passion for flying and a God-given natural ability to fly both helicopters and airplanes and to teach others," said Chief Warrant Officer Reggie Lane, who served with Griffin.
Griffin was 37 and is survived by his wife, four children and his father. He was a native of Delhi in central Louisiana. He was living in Hammond at the time of his death.
GEORGE DAVID STROTHER
Chief Warrant Officer George David Strother, described by his officers as a "force of nature," was a seasoned combat pilot. He had over 700 combat hours under his belt. He served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. He also was deployed during Hurricane Katrina and other major hurricanes to hit Louisiana.
Strother, 44, is survived by his wife, son, step-daughter and mother. He was a native of Pineville.
"To describe Dave Strother as a big personality would not be accurate," said Maj. Andre Jeansonne, an aviation commander with the Louisiana National Guard. "He was more like a force of nature that could be best observed and marveled at, never opposed or altered."
He was living Alexandria at the time of his death.
Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, 40, was a highly respected crew chief who was called one of the Guard's most qualified experts on Black Hawk helicopters. He enlisted in 1998 with the U.S Marine Corps and joined the Louisiana National Guard as a Black Hawk repairer. He was also a valued instructor.
"He was a subject matter expert in his job who exhibited an excitement of learning new skills," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Marquez, a platoon sergeant with Bergeron's unit.
He had 377 combat hours to his name and served in Iraq twice. He also was deployed during Hurricane Katrina and other major hurricanes to hit Louisiana.
A native of Thibodaux in south Louisiana, Bergeron was remembered as a loving father and husband.
He is survived by his wife, two children and his parents. He was living in Hammond at the time of his death.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich was a native of Fairfax County, Virginia, and joined the Louisiana National Guard in 2007 as a Black Hawk repairer. He served during the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Florich, 26, was remembered as an energetic and dedicated crew member.
"He was family with the unit members," said Marquez, a platoon sergeant. "Tom was full of life and his personality could light the room."
He was living in Baton Rouge at the time of his death.
He is survived by his wife, father and stepmother. His wife is expecting their first baby.