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Marine killed in copter crash served in Iraq, Afghanistan

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 06:52 p.m. HST, Mar 31, 2011

The 22-year-old Marine Corps aerial gunner who died in the Kaneohe Bay helicopter crash Tuesday night had returned from deployment in Afghanistan last year, and had also served in Iraq.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii identified the Marine today as Cpl. Jonathan Faircloth, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Faircloth's parents, Dean and Beverly Faircloth, described their son as a true gentleman and a happy person who loved the Marine Corps and his job. He is also survived by his wife Alicia and two siblings.

Three other Marines survived the crash and are in stable condition at the Queen's Medical Center with ankle and spine injuries, officials said.

Three of the four Marines involved in the helicopter crash were veterans of the Afghan and Iraqi wars with Kaneohe-based units and all were described as "experienced" aviators.

The CH-53D Sea Stallion crashed just after 7 p.m. Tuesday about 2 miles from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in view of Heeia Kea pier. The helicopter had been in the air for just a few minutes after taking off on a routine training mission before calling a Mayday and making an emergency landing on the sandbar.

Faircloth returned from a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan last year and also served in Iraq in 2008. He joined Kaneohe Bay's Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Air Group 24 'Red Lions'  in April 2007 after enlisting in August 2006.

His personal awards include four Air Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, Iraq and Afghanistan Campaign Medals, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Faircloth was pronounced dead by the Honolulu medical examiner and his body was taken to Tripler Army Medical Center Tuesday night.

Injured in the crash were: pilot Maj. Clinton J. Collins, co-pilot Capt. Kevin F. Hayles, and crew chief Cpl. Ronnie E. Brandafino. All three Marines were taken to Queen's Medical Center and were last reported in stable condition.

While Hayles joined the squadron recently, Collins deployed with the Red Lions squadron once to Afghanistan. Brandafino, who joined the squadron in 2008 deployed with them to Iraq that year and to Afghanistan in 2010. Collins also deployed with the Red Lions' sister squadron, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 326, to Iraq in 2007.

The Marines continued investigating the cause of the crash today. Navy divers are trying to figure out how to remove the helicopter from the sandbar in Kaneohe Bay in the "safest and best way to protect the environment," a Navy spokesman said. 

The 88-foot-long, 21-ton helicopter remained on its side in shallow water this morning. Options to remove the wreckage include lifting it by helicopter or bringing it in on a barge. The Coast Guard is enforcing a 500-yard safety zone around the helicopter. Officials said they expected that a fuel spill from the crash would evaporate with minimal environmental impact.

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