Petty Officer Second Class Peter A. Ware was a 26-year-old Navy reservist
from Norristown who loved to fly. It was not his only love.
When he traveled to the Bahamas at the beginning of this month for a 10-day training mission, he left behind a fiancee and a near-perfect grade point average at West Chester University, where he was enrolled in the pre-med program.
On Monday afternoon, Ware and three other Navy men were flying in clear, sunny skies when their helicopter, a SH-2F Seasprite, fell into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all four men. The flight was supposed to end at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, where the men were assigned to a helicopter squadron.
Ware was in good company.
The pilot was a graduate of Cornell University and a law student at George Mason University. The four Navy men had garnered at least seven service awards among them and were part of a squadron that had logged more than 10,000 flight-hours without an accident since its inception in October 1985.
On Monday, the lives of those four men and that spotless record came to an abrupt end about 1 p.m. when their craft crashed into 27 feet of water about a half-mile off Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
At a news conference yesterday at the Willow Grove base, Cmdr. Ron Pignataro said a safety board was investigating the crash.
Pignataro said the Navy hoped to have the wreckage pulled from the water by Friday.
The men were on their way home to Willow Grove – along with two other helicopters – when the crash occurred. They had been training for 10 days at the Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center at Andros Island, Bahamas.
In addition to Ware, the victims were Lt. Cmdr. Robert C. Dobson, 36, of Arlington, Va.; the pilot, Lt. Edward A. Kleppe, 30, of Falls Church, Va., and Petty Officer Trevis A. Glover, 22, of Cope, S.C.
Ware, an air crewman who joined the squadron in May 1988, enrolled in the pre-med program at West Chester in September. He had won three service awards, according to Pignataro, including the Sea Service Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal and the Coast Guard Special Operation Service Ribbon.
“He was an excellent student . . . close to straight A,” said Dr. Philip Rudnick, director of the pre-med program at West Chester. “He was a very dedicated young man, and I really think that his being in the Navy and wanting to be a doctor reflect his dedication to service.”
“He enjoyed flying and being part of the team,” Pignataro said of Ware, who was born in Britain. “He did quite a bit of flying here at nights; basically, he liked what he was doing.”
The SH-2F Seasprite, some of which are in operation in the Persian Gulf, is used principally as an anti-submarine surveillance and targeting craft, according to Pignataro. It is built by the Kaman Corp. of Bloomfield, Conn., and flew for the first time in 1959.
The helicopter that crashed Monday was about 20 years old, Pignataro said.
Duke Dubose of Jacksonville said he was surfing about 500 yards south of the crash site when he saw the helicopter spiral and then plummet sideways into the ocean.
“It looked like the back rotor quit, and it started to tailspin,” he said. “When it went into the water, it wasn’t a loud sound – not an explosion. It was more of a muffled sound when it hit.”
Pignataro said the Navy had no plans of taking the Seasprites out of operations, but his squadron was conducting a “safety stand-down,” meaning that all the squad’s flights are grounded for an undetermined time.
The fatal crash was the third one involving the SH-2F Seasprite since 1988.
In November 1988, four men were lost and presumed dead in the North Arabian Sea after a Seasprite crashed while approaching a frigate for a landing during a routine mission in November. One Navy spokesman said yesterday that the accident was “definitely a mechanical failure.”
In August 1988, a Seasprite crashed about 35 miles south of San Clemente Island, in the Channel Islands off California’s coast. Three of the four crew members survived that accident.