Parents: Doherty grad among casualties of Washington crash

December 13, 2011
photo - A Fort Lewis fire engine leaves the scene off Rainier Road SE in Thurston County where two Army OH-58 helicopters crashed, killing four soldiers Monday, December 12, 2011.  Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Fort Lewis fire engine leaves the scene off Rainier Road SE in Thurston County where two Army OH-58 helicopters crashed, killing four soldiers Monday, December 12, 2011. Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 

A Doherty High School graduate was among four people killed Monday evening when two helicopters crashed at a base in Washington.

The remains of the four aviators who died at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were removed from the scene Tuesday as members of their unit took time to grieve the loss.

Army officials have not identified the deceased soldiers or the cause of the crash, as an investigative team traveled to the site to begin work Wednesday morning. The Army does not release victims' names until 24 hours after family notification.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Frank Buoniconti III, though, was among those killed in the crash, according to his parents, Frank and Silvia Buoniconti, who live in Colorado Springs.

“He was a great guy,” Silvia Buoniconti said. “I’m so in shock and so is my husband.”

The younger Frank Buoniconti followed his father into the military and served three overseas tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He joined “to serve his country” because “he felt it was the right thing to do,” his mother said.

A part of that service was preparing dinners for fellow soldiers, his mother said.

“He loved to cook, he loved to bake,” Silvia Buoniconti said. “He’s just sorely missed.”

Frank Buoniconti III married his high school sweetheart and lived in a growing family. He had three children and recently adopted a fourth, a special needs child.

“Nobody wanted that little boy because of what he had and they didn’t want him to get into the system,” Silvia Buoniconti said. “It just got final a week or two ago.”

The aircraft involved were OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, often called scout helicopters. The single-engine, four-bladed aircraft are used for armed reconnaissance.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Oliphant, an aviation safety officer at the base, said the airmen were on a routine night training flight, but he did not know specifically what they were doing before the crash. The weather was clear when Oliphant arrived to the scene late Monday.

He wasn't sure whether the helicopters had collided, but he said they scattered a wide debris field, with most of it spreading across a 300-meter area.

"With moving aircraft, there could be debris anywhere throughout the woods," he said. Additional military vehicles arrived Tuesday to help secure the scene.

The helicopters went down a couple miles from the community of Rainier, which is south of Tacoma. The Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., will lead the overall investigation into the accident, and a six-person team was expected to arrive Tuesday night and begin work Wednesday morning.

That investigation could take several months or up to a year, Oliphant said.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is one of the largest bases in the country, with about 100,000 military and civilian personnel. In December 2006, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from Fort Lewis crashed southeast of Seattle during a night training mission, killing all three aboard.

The elder Frank Buoniconti said he and his wife also are grieving for the other people killed. The aviators' colleagues have halted further activity as they analyze and grieve the tragedy.

"One loss is one too many," Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said. "Any time you lose a soldier, it's like losing a brother or a sister. It hurts."

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