NAS Whiting Field aviators who died in Oct. 23 crash remembered for leadership and 'selfless character'
By JIM THOMPSON | The Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: October 30, 2020
NAS WHITING FIELD (Tribune News Service) — There is no official word yet on any local memorial services for the two military aviators from Naval Air Station Whiting Field who died in the Oct. 23 crash of their T-6B Texan II training aircraft in Alabama, but the two already are being remembered in a number of ways.
U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, 24, an aviation student from Weddington, North Carolina, and Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, 30, a flight instructor from Wixom, Michigan, died when their aircraft crashed into a residential area in Morgan Springs, Alabama, about 50 miles southwest of NAS Whiting Field.
The crash set a house and two cars on fire, but there were no casualties on the ground.
Shortly after the crash, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all United States and North Carolina flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Garrett. The flags will be flown at half-staff until sunset on Monday, Nov. 2.
Also, the Charlotte Rush, a U.S. Premier Hockey League team, will hold a moment of silence for Garrett during its upcoming weekend games at Extreme Ice Center.
Garrett was a 2015 graduate of Weddington High School, where the Union County Public School System released a statement reported by local media that noted the school "mourns the loss of our 2015 graduate, Morgan Garrett, who died while serving our nation."
The statement remembered Garrett as "a leader in the classroom, on the athletic fields and in our local community. Her leadership, commitment to excellence and infectious smile left a lasting impression on our school community."
Garrett was a 2019 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The academy's Alumni Association, at the request of Garrett's family, has established a page on its website to help set up a memorial fund that "will recognize and celebrate her achievements and carry on her legacy."
Garrett's mother told a Charlotte TV station earlier this week that a memorial service will be held in Union County for her daughter, although no date has been set.
In the meantime, there are unofficial reports that separate memorial services will be held for both women in Florida early next month. None of those reports could be confirmed Thursday through Navy or Coast Guard public affairs offices.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page, the Lt. Rhiannon Ross Memorial Fund, had surpassed its $20,000 goal Thursday, just three days after it was created by Lt. Katie Greiner, a fellow Navy aviator.
The fund, created to help with family travel expenses and other memorial costs, and "to create a platform to continue the legacy of the beautiful life she lived," had surpassed $22,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
Greiner did not return a message seeking comment, but on the GoFundMe page she remembered Ross as "an amazing person whose selfless character drew everyone to her. We are all better for having known Rhiannon and to have been impacted by her love, spirit, and kindness."
A Navy investigation of the crash is underway.
On Monday, Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of Naval Air Forces, ordered a one-day safety stand-down of all non-deployed Navy aviation units as a result of the T-6B Texan II crash and the Oct. 20 crash of an F/A-18E Super Hornet jet from California's Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The pilot of the Super Hornet safely ejected from the aircraft.
In announcing the stand-down, Naval Air Forces noted that the one-day operational halt for non-deployed units was designed to provide "an opportunity for our aviation commands to focus on how to further improve operational risk management and risk mitigation across the Naval Aviation enterprise. ... The safety of our personnel and our local communities is a top priority. We take all aviation incidents extremely seriously."
A report on the safety aspects of the Navy investigation into the T-6B Texan II crash at some point will be available to the public. But under Navy guidelines, at least some of the report will be redacted as a means to encourage full and complete testimony from people involved in the safety probe, according to Naval Aviation Safety Management System rules.