Race honors Dalton resident killed in Navy plane crash
PITTSFIELD — One more race only made sense for the Berkshire County High School Alpine League.
A week after the last event of the regular season, the league was back at Bousquet Ski Area on Wednesday to honor longtime Dalton resident Lt. Steven L. Combs Jr.
Combs, a 28-year-old Navy pilot, died in November when his twin-engine aircraft, a C-2A Greyhound, went down over the Philippine Sea after taking off from Japan.
His family set up the memorial race in honor of Combs, an accomplished skier.
He was MVP of the league in his junior and senior years at the now-closed St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield, and continued skiing while in college at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In Wednesday's race, the overall best boys and girls ski teams each won a $500 donation to their school in honor of Combs, provided by the Combs Family Gold Wings Foundation.
Combs' family set up the charitable foundation soon after his death, in response to an outpouring of donations from his Navy colleagues and network of friends.
Navy aviators receive gold wings at the end of their training.
"Obtaining his wings as a naval aviator was the high point of his life," said his father, Steven Combs Sr., who lives in Sarasota, Fla. "When he did it, I know he was on cloud nine."
At the time of his death, Combs had been in Japan for more than two years, flying off a carrier.
From an early age, he knew he wanted to fly, his father recalled.
He earned his private pilot's license the summer after high school.
"As he used to say, 'Anybody can land on a two-mile runway,'" his father recalled. "'Not everybody can land on a small postage stamp floating up and down in the ocean.'"
Eight of the 11 passengers aboard the plane Combs was piloting survived the crash.
Elizabeth Combs, one of Steven's two older sisters, previously told the Eagle that her brother's ability to save the lives of a majority of the plane's passengers made him a hero.
"It does help a little bit that, even in his last moment, he was looking out for others," she previously told the Eagle. "I wouldn't have expected anything less."
Combs' family intends to make the race an annual event.
"We think we'll have no problem maintaining this for the foreseeable future," the elder Combs said.
The foundation will also provide a separate $1,000 scholarship this spring to one male and one female senior who plan to further their education.
The award will be given to students who demonstrate scholarship, athleticism and sportsmanship — as Combs did.
Students from Wahconah Regional High School, Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School are eligible.
Funding for the scholarship should also last well into the future.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at email@example.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.
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