Santee native Sean Christopher Snyder dies in Navy helicopter crash off Virginia coast

SAN DIEGO - A missing Navy pilot whose helicopter crashed in the ocean off the Virginia coast on Wednesday has been identified as a native of Santee.

Lt. Sean Christopher Snyder, 39, was among five sailors aboard the MH-53E Sea Dragon that crashed for unknown reasons around 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to a statement released by Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic.

Within an hour of the crash, the other four sailors were found floating near the wreckage and hoisted from 42-degree waters. Two survived and were taken to a hospital, and two died.

The deceased were identified as Lt. Wesley Van Dorn, 29, of Greensboro, N.C., and Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Andrew Collins, 25, of Truckee. Van Dorn, like Snyder, was a pilot on the flight and Collins, a crewman.

The aircraft was part of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen based at Naval Station Norfolk.

The Coast Guard and the Navy searched a roughly 500-square-mile area around the crash site by air and sea for more than 30 hours before calling off the active search for Snyder at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the Coast Guard.

In the statement released late Thursday, the Snyder family described him as a "decorated pilot, a man of honor, dedicated husband, and a father, who is proud and grateful for his privilege to serve his country in the United States Navy."

The Sea Dragon is 99 feet long, weighs up to 34 tons and holds up to two pilots and six crew members. It is typically used for heavy lifting, including the towing of a heavy piece of equipment that is used in mine clearing operations. The Navy said Wednesday's crash occurred during a routine training exercise for mine countermeasures.

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