ST. LOUIS — All United States and Missouri flags at government buildings statewide will be at half-staff Saturday to honor a solider who died in a March helicopter crash. Army Officer Rusten Radford Smith, of St. James, Missouri, was killed along with eight others when two Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed near Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The flags will be at half staff on the day of his funeral
Smith, 32, was an instructor pilot for the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. He was among nine soldiers who died in a nighttime training accident aboard the Black Hawk helicopters that collided on March 29th.
The Black Hawk pilot killed in training is now being remembered as a hero dedicated to serving his country. Along with Zachary Espernza, another Missouri soldier killed in the accident. His body arrived at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday morning.
For those looking to pay their respects, visitation will be open to the public at St. James Middle School. That’s about an hour and a half from the St. Louis area. It will go from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Smith will then be laid to rest at Fort Leonard.
An order to put Missouri flags at half-staff to honor Esparaza at a future date is expected from the governor’s office.
“Rusten’s life was cut tragically short, but he gave it in patriotic service to our nation, which he so loved, and we are forever grateful for that service,”stated Governor Parson.
The Associated Press reports that the HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed on March 29 near Fort Campbell during a nighttime training exercise. Brig. Gen. John Lubas, the 101st Airborne deputy commander, has said the accident occurred while the helicopters were flying.
Three of the soldiers killed in the crash were posthumously promoted to the next higher grade, officials said: Sgt. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Missouri; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Florida.
The others killed were Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Florida; Sgt. Isaacjohn Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles, California; Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, North Carolina; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Alabama; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of St. James, Missouri; and Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23, of Oradell, New Jersey, the Army said.