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Navy Pilot Lost in C-2 Crash 'Flew the Hell Out of That Airplane'

File photo of Lt. Steven Combs, assigned to the Providers of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
File photo of Lt. Steven Combs, assigned to the Providers of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

A Navy lieutenant who lost his life while working to save his passengers in a C-2 Greyhound crash last week may be recommended for an award, an official said Monday.

Lt. Steven Combs, the pilot of the aircraft, was one of three sailors who died when the aircraft crashed Nov. 22 in the Pacific Ocean en route to the carrier Ronald Reagan from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Eight other sailors, including the co-pilot, were rescued from the water.

Combs managed to execute a landing on the water, giving the four aircrew and seven passengers the best opportunity to get clear of the aircraft and reach safety. The difficulty of such a landing with the cargo aircraft was compounded by high seas, which by some reports reached 10 to 12 feet, said Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces.

"They did not have a lot of notice that they were going to have to ditch just miles from the carrier," Flanders told Military.com. "To use the words of his co-pilot who told us, '[Combs] flew the hell out of that plane.'"

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Flanders added that the possibility of a posthumous award for Combs in light of his actions was under discussion.

Combs, who was commissioned in 2011 and reported to Fleet Logistics Squadron 30 in 2015, had served aboard Ronald Reagan as a detachment assistant operations officer and administrative officer, according to a Navy release. During his career, he had logged more than 1,200 flight hours and 100 carrier-arrested landings.

Navy personnel were able to rescue the eight survivors within an hour of the C-2 going down southwest of Okinawa. On Nov. 25, the Navy identified those lost as Combs, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) Airman Matthew Chialastri and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso.

Multiple sources have reported that engine failure is suspected as a cause of the crash, though an investigation is still underway.

"Clearly there was something amiss with the aircraft and basically they were not close enough to the carrier to try to bring it in," Flanders said.

On Saturday, the Ronald Reagan held a memorial service to commemorate the lives of Combs, Chialastri and Grosso.

Capt. Michael Wosje, the commander of the Reagan's Carrier Air Wing 5, paid special tribute to the fallen pilot.

"The loss of one of our pilots weighs heavily on the entire Carrier Air Wing Five team. Lt. Combs will always be remembered as a hero," Wosje said, according to a news release. "I am proud to have flown with him."

The commander of the carrier, Capt. Buzz Donnelly, also honored the sailors who died.

"The loss of these crew members hits across the entire ship with great significance," said Capt. Buzz Donnelly, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer. "On behalf of the entire crew of USS Ronald Reagan, I extend heartfelt prayers and sincere condolences to the families and friends of the three shipmates we lost."

Less than a week after the tragic crash, the Navy has not moved to suspend or pause flight operations for the aging Greyhound, the service's carrier onboard delivery platform for personnel and logistics.

Flanders noted that the current batch of the aircraft, C-2A(R), which began flying for the Navy in the mid-1980s, has an almost unprecedented safety record. There has been only one previous fatality -- a tragic 1988 mishap in which an individual walked into the aircraft's prop arc.

"This mishap was the first of its kind in several decades," Flanders said of the most recent crash.

The Greyhounds now flying for the Navy recently underwent a service-life extension program that was completed in 2015. The transports are set to be retired and replaced by Navy-variant CMV-22 Ospreys in the mid-2020s.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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