St. Joseph Central High grad among 3 killed in Navy plane crash

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This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the manner of identification of the service members.  

A 28-year-old St. Joseph Central High School graduate died Wednesday when his Navy Greyhound plane crashed over the Philippine Sea on its way to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy.

Navy Lt. Steven Combs, who was living in Florida, was assigned to the Providers of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron aboard the USS Ronald Reagan as part of Carrier Air Wing Five.

When reached by phone Saturday, Combs' sister, Elizabeth, confirmed, through tears, that her brother was a graduate of the now-shuttered St. Joseph. Combs declined to immediately speak further about her brother, as the family's grief is "tremendous," but she called the sailor "larger than life."

Combs was previously assigned to the Greyhawks of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron, the Center for Security Forces Detachment Kittery Point, in Portsmouth, N.H., and Training Wing 4 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He held the National Defense Ribbon and the Navy "E" Ribbon, according to a statement issued by the Navy on Saturday.

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Combs, a pilot, was one of 11 crew and passengers on the aircraft that departed from Okinawa before it crashed. Eight passengers were rescued from the scene shortly after the crash.

Combs, Airman Matthew Chialastri of Louisiana, and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso of Florida were identified by the Navy on Saturday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these Sailors," Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said in a statement. "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."

The USS Ronald Reagan led combined search and rescue efforts with units from the Japanese military. Over the course of two days, ships and aircraft covered nearly 1000 square nautical miles, according to the Navy.

An investigation into the crash is ongoing, according to the Navy.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter, or 413-770-6977.


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