News | April 3, 2006

Langley Airman dies in helo crash

By Tech. Sgt. Cindy Dorfner Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Public Affairs

In less than a week, Staff Sgt. Luis M. Melendez Sanchez made a positive impression on his co-workers as a radio operator at the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Remembered as a “quiet leader,” Sergeant Melendez, deployed from the 1st Communications Squadron, died Feb. 17 with eight Marines and another Airman when two Marine Corps CH-53E helicopters crashed into the Gulf of Aden off the coast of northern Djibouti. Two Marines survived, were rescued and later flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The helicopters, part of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 from Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C., were on a mission near Godoria Range, which is used by CJTF-HOA for various training purposes.

Though this was the first time Sergeant Melendez had deployed to a unit tasked with performing tactical communications, he was ready to “get his hands dirty,” said Senior Airman Julius Booker, a co-worker and friend who shared a tent with Sergeant Melendez.

“You could definitely find all of the Air Force’s core values in Sergeant Melendez,” said Airman Booker. “He was honest. He took training really seriously and was a fast learner.”

Sergeant Melendez and Senior Airman Alecia Good, who was deployed from the 92nd Communications Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., were aboard the helicopters to provide satellite communication back to the CJTF-HOA Joint Operations Center, according to Army Sgt. Edgar Torres, also a radio operator.

“The pilots have line-of-sight communication, but there’s a distance limitation,” Sergeant Torres said. “With the satellite communication, they can be anywhere. It’s more efficient.”

Sergeant Torres said every time a helicopter leaves Camp Lemonier, there must be a radio operator on board to provide satellite communications. Having been here for six days, it was the first mission for both Airmen.

“Sergeant Melendez was excited to be on this deployment -- we all were,” Airman Booker said. “It was something different to go to the (flight) briefs and fly. We looked forward to doing this mission.”

While eager about a new aspect of his job, Sergeant Melendez often talked at night with Airman Booker about being away from his family.

“He really loved his boys,” Airman Booker said. “He talked a lot about his boys and his wife -- he told us he was really happily married.”

Sergeant Melendez was deployed to Djibouti as part of the CJTF-HOA to help conduct operations and training to assist host nations establish a secure environment and enable regional security.

On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, the commander of CJTF-HOA, said the Airmen and Marines died while “unselfishly” fighting the war against terror.

“This morning, we sent off all 10 of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “They were members of our team and we should all feel as though we’ve lost a part of ourselves.”

The cause of the crash is unknown and is under investigation.
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