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Marine-turned-Army aviator and 17-year veteran killed in Apache helicopter crash last week

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Connolly, left, and Warrant Officer James Casadona were killed in a helicopter crash at Fort Campbell, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border on Friday, April 6, 2018.

U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 9, 2018

WASHINGTON – The Army pilots killed Friday when their AH-64E Apache helicopter crashed in Kentucky were a 17-year veteran of the service and a Marine-turned-Army aviator, according to military officials.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Connolly and Warrant Officer James Casadona were on a training flight at Fort Campbell when they crashed, the fifth in a series of military aviation wrecks last week that left seven servicemembers dead. Fort Campbell officials said the wreck Friday was under investigation but declined to provide details about how or why it occurred.

Both pilots were assigned to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell.

Casadona, 28, had joined the unit in recent months after completing training in January at Fort Rucker in Alabama. He had joined the Army in 2012, according to a Fort Campbell spokesman. The young pilot had served four years in the Marines after graduating from the New Hampton School in New Hampton, N.H., where he played soccer, according to the high school.

Casadona’s three sisters -- Kristen and Nicole Casadona and Lauren Dean -- posted photographs of their fallen brother in public tributes to him on their Facebook pages.

In a post that included a photograph of Kristen Casadona with her brother, who went by Jimmy, with an Apache in the background, she wrote he was her “best friend, confident and adventure partner.”

“I love you with all of my heart and every ounce of my being,” Kristen wrote. “… Golden Boy and Glamour Girl forever and ever, but for now taking each day one step at a time. Fly high and fly free, my sweet brother. There was no one in this world quite like you, Jimmy.”

On her page, Dean wrote simply: “My heart is shattered.”

Connolly, 37, of Manchester, Mo., was a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since joining the service in 2001, according to the Army. He was an instructor pilot who had been assigned to Fort Campbell since 2016.

A longtime friend of Connolly’s, Robert James Crandall, wrote in a public Facebook post on Sunday that Connolly was a “great man.”

Connolly left college early in 2001 at the University of Missouri to enlist in the Army because he was called to service, wrote Crandall, himself a Navy veteran who roomed with Connolly in college, where they were members of the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha.

“I will miss him dearly and I will think of him always as the great man, friend, and brother he was to me and to everyone who had ever had the honor of knowing him,” Crandall wrote. “Thank you for all the memories Ryan. I know you made the most of … life, this world, and you are with God! Our country has lost a great soldier.”

In addition to Connolly and Casadona, four Marines were killed last week when their CH-53-E Super Stallion helicopter crashed in Southern California and an elite Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 pilot died in a training wreck in Nevada. In Djibouti, another CH-53E helicopter sustained damage in a crash and an AV-8B Harrier attack jet was destroyed in another crash last week.

Pentagon officials said they were investigating all the crashes and looking for possible links in the uptick in training mishaps, but Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said the Defense Department did not have immediate reason to believe they were related.

“We look very hard, through a well-established procedure of examining each mishap,” he said. “We work very hard to uncover all those things, to look both individually at each accident, each mishap, as well as the linkages between them.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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