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Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis gather on the flight deck during a memorial service to honor four fallen sailors.

Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis gather on the flight deck during a memorial service to honor four fallen sailors. (Courtesy U.S. Navy)

The Navy recovered the remains of all four Navy aviators killed when their S-3B Viking crashed on Kita Io Jima last week, Navy officials said Monday, and was expected to halt recovery operations soon, leaving most of the aircraft wreckage on the small volcanic island.

The announcement came after crew and officers of the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, many donning their whites, had gathered on deck for a memorial service, as S-3B Vikings flew overhead in a missing man formation and the four aviators were given a 21-gun salute.

Their Viking was flying a practice mission from the Stennis when radio contact with the crew was lost at 7:42 p.m. Aug. 10 — between sunset and moonrise, said Cmdr. Scott Gureck, a 7th Fleet spokesman.

The San Diego-based crew members were identified as Lt. Patrick Sean Myrick, 31; Lt. James Joseph Pupplo, 34; Lt. Cmdr. Scott Allen Zellem, 35; and Aviation Electronics Technician Second Class Joshua Brent Showalter, 24. Rear Adm. Patrick Walsh, the Stennis commander, called the four “men of virtue, pride and commitment,” as the ceremony ended with the playing of taps.

Gureck said, “I expect recovery operations will conclude shortly. Recovery teams believe they have recovered as much of the human remains as they can find and they’ll likely be able to find.”

With the S-3B Viking’s pieces strewn on a sheer mountain face 1,400 feet above sea level, retrieving the wreckage would be an extremely dangerous task, Gureck said.

“That’s something that’s going to have to be determined in the future, in concert with the Japanese government,” he said. “At some point, we have to determine whether it makes sense to recover the wreckage because I think certainly we don’t want to cause any more loss of human life.

“The recovery operation was focused on the recovery of human remains and hazardous materials and that recovery is complete,” Gureck said.

Air Force rescue personnel had to rappel from a helicopter to reach the wreckage about 100 feet below a ridgeline, Gureck said.

“It was extremely dangerous. It’s practically a sheer cliff face that they were trying to conduct recovery operations on,” he said.

An active volcano, the uninhabited Kita Io Jima juts 2,600 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Part of Japan’s Volcano Islands, it sits about 45 miles north of Iwo Jima.

Gureck said the Navy still is investigating the cause of the crash. He wouldn’t speculate on how long the probe might take.

Megan Mouch contributed to this report

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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