JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The mother of one of the three soldiers killed last week when two U.S. Army helicopters collided in a remote part of Alaska said her son loved his country and his family and lifted others up.
“Family was everything to him,” Stacie Weaver told The Associated Press Monday of her son, Warrant Officer 1 Stewart Duane Wayment, of North Logan, Utah, who leaves behind a wife, Kiara, and three young children.
Wayment had a positive outlook and cared about others, Weaver said. He enjoyed the outdoors and was excited to be stationed in Alaska, to fly over rugged landscapes and see the northern lights and wildlife.
Two helicopters from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks, collided Thursday about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Healy when they were returning from training, the Army has said. Healy is about 80 miles (129 kilometers) southwest of Fairbanks.
An investigative team from Fort Novosel, Alabama, arrived in Alaska over the weekend and flew to the crash site Monday, said John Pennell, a U.S. Army Alaska spokesperson.
The Army has identified the soldiers who died as Wayment, 32; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Robert Eramo, 39, of Oneonta, New York; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kyle D. McKenna, 28, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. A fourth soldier was injured. That soldier’s name has not been released.
Pennell has said that there were “no weather or visual constraints known of at the time of the collision.”
The Army on Friday grounded aviation units for training after the crash, which occurred a month after nine soldiers were killed when two Army Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed during a nighttime training exercise in Kentucky.
Units are grounded until they complete the training, Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, an Army spokesperson has said. For active-duty units, the training is to take place this week, between Monday and Friday. Army National Guard and Reserve units will have until May 31 to complete the training.
A commander at the level of a two-star general can authorize an exception, he said.
“The safety of our aviators is our top priority, and this stand down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel,” Army Chief of Staff James McConville said of the decision to ground flight units for training.
New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting a review of helicopter crashes within all military branches that were fatal or that involved the loss of aircraft. She requested information on such accidents within the last five years.
She cited a 2021 New York Army National Guard crash that killed three soldiers during training. “Since then, we have only lost more service members to catastrophic incidents involving rotary wing aircraft,” she wrote.
The Army on Friday said that while both the Alaska and Kentucky crashes are under investigation, “there is no indication of any pattern between the two mishaps.”