FDNY members killed in Iraq helicopter crash, city says

Two members of the FDNY were among those killed when a U.S. military helicopter crashed in western Iraq on Thursday, city officials confirmed on Friday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Lt. Christopher J. Raguso and Fire Marshal Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis were “truly two of New York City’s bravest – running into danger to protect and defend others, both in New York City and in combat overseas.”

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to their families, loved ones, and fellow service members and FDNY members,” the mayor added in an emailed statement.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered flags flown at half staff on all state government buildings Sunday to honor Raguso, Zanetis and two other New York National Guard members killed in the crash.

“We join their loved ones and fellow service members in honoring the sacrifice they have made, so that others may live free in New York and across the entire nation,” Cuomo said in a news release.

Raguso served as a flight engineer in the New York Air National Guard, was a 13-year veteran of the FDNY and a lieutenant with the volunteer fire department in his hometown of Commack, according to city officials and the Commack Fire Department.

He began his career with the FDNY at Ladder Company 113 in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He then moved to Battalion 50 in Queens when he was promoted to lieutenant in September 2016.

“On six different occasions he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions as an individual Firefighter or as part of a unit,” the FDNY said of Raguso, who celebrated his 39th birthday the day before the crash.

Zanetis’ sister, Angela Zanetis, said he was also a member of the Air National Guard and was on his fourth tour in Iraq.

“There will never be anyone like Tripp,” Angela Zanetis said in an interview Friday from her home in Carmel, Indiana. “Tripp died fighting for our country.”

Zanetis, of Long Island City, was appointed to fire marshal in April 2013, working for the Bureau of Fire Investigations Citywide South in Brooklyn, following about nine years of service as a firefighter with the FDNY. He was recognized for bravery as part of an investigative unit in 2014, per the department.

Prior to joining the FDNY he volunteered at Ground Zero, digging out rubble and providing water to first responders, his sister said.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service – as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

The Commack Fire Department said in a Facebook post on Friday that Raguso was the type of person who was “always there to help anyone with anything.”

“Last night the Commack Fire Department and this great nation of ours lost a great American Patriot, friend and brother,” the Commack Fire Department wrote on Facebook. “Please keep Chris and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Raguso and Zanetis are the first members of the FDNY to die while in active military service since Nov. 29, 2004, officials said.

The United States Central Command said the crash, which is under investigation, did not appear to be the result of enemy activity. The HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter was ferrying troops from Iraq to Syria and was not on a combat mission, defense officials said. 

“All personnel aboard were killed in the crash,” said Brig. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, director of operations of the Combined Joint Task Force. “This tragedy reminds us of the risks our men and women face every day in service of our nations.”

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing initial reports, said on Thursday the aircraft crashed near Qaim, a town in Anbar province close to the Syrian border.

The military said a second accompanying American helicopter immediately reported the crash and Iraqi security forces and coalition members secured the area.

In a tweet Friday, President Donald Trump offered condolences to the victims.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the brave troops lost in the helicopter crash on the Iraq-Syria border yesterday,” Trump tweeted. “Their sacrifice in service to our country will never be forgotten.”

Raguso is survived by his wife, Carmella, and his 5- and 6-year-old daughters. Zanetis is survived by his parents, John and Sarah, who live in Carmel, Indiana, the FDNY said.

With Reuters, Robert Brodsky and Martin C. Evans