U.S. Navy sailors James Buriak and Sarah Burns were pronounced dead after their helicopter crashed off the coach of California. The two sailors were among five that were killed, with one rescued, after the helicopter went missing for four days.
While conducting a routine flight on Tuesday, the MH-60S helicopter went down about 60 miles off the coast of San Diego, Ca., which sent the Navy into a search and rescue operation for more than 72 hours.
The Navy later identified the fallen sailors as Naval Air Crewman James Buriak, 31, of Salem, Va; Hospital Corpsman Sarah Burns, 31, of Saverna Park, Md; Lieutenant Bradley Foster, 29, of Oakhurst, Ca.; Lieutenant Paul Fridley, 28, of Annandale, Va.; and Hospital Corpsman Bailey Tucker, 21, of St. Louis, Mo.
The one rescued crew member has not been identified, but they are reportedly in critical condition. Six other sailors on board also suffered minor injuries, as the helicopter plunged off the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of five Sailors and those injured following the MH-60S helicopter tragedy off the coast of Southern California,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said in a statement to CNN on Saturday. “We stand alongside their families, loved ones, and shipmates who grieve.”
Naval Crewman James Buriak is survived by his wife Megan, and his 1-year-old son Caulder. Trained as a rescue swimmer, Buriak was well known for saving a tourist from drowning in 2020 while stationed in Gun Beach, Guam.
“I just happened to be the person there,” Buriak said at the time. “I would like to think that regardless of who it was, they would have done the same. Someone said they needed help, and anyone would do the same in my shoes.”
“Once I got past the reef line, I could tell he was stuck in the current, it really grabbed me and immediately pushed me to him.” said Buriak. “I took him sideways away from the current, and started heading back to the beach. That’s when I found the reef with my foot.”
The footing allowed Buriak to walk to shore, even though the coral was cutting up his feet. After thanking James Buriak, the saved tourist was taken away to the hospital on a stretcher.
“This is the kind of thing we train for,”Chief Naval Air Crewman Aaron Albright said of Buriak’s bravery that day. “I couldn’t be prouder. He handled it flawlessly.”
James’ wife, Megan Buriak, went private on her Instagram page, and the family has yet to release a statement.
Brad Foster, one of the lieutenants who perished in the crash, was also married with a wife and daughter.
“Brad Foster represents the very best,” wrote Tom Cropper, president of California State University Maritime Academy where he went to school. “Enthusiastic, optimistic, and mature beyond his years, Brad took the road less traveled. I, like so many others in the Cal Maritime family, am heartbroken.”
Hospital Corpsman Sarah Burns is survived by her husband, Lucas. A GoFundMe page was set up to help support the family, writing that, “If you are able, any contribution is appreciated and funds will be utilized for living expenses, long term support, and a memorial fund in honor of Sarah’s legacy.”
A separate fundraiser was also set up to help support the families and loved ones survived by the tragic accident. It has so far raised over $94,000 as of Monday, Sep. 6.
“This fundraiser will help these families as they navigate this difficult transition,” the page read. Funds will be split evenly among the five families, and will go toward living expenses, housing expenses, childcare, and education costs.
The Naval incident is reportedly under investigation. Police are trying to determine what led to the crash.