Thursday, August 16, 2007

Christopher C. Johnson dies 'of injuries suffered when his helicopter crashed'

Christopher Johnson had looked danger in the eye many times before as a Green Beret, but it was his dream of flying for the armed services that led him to train to become part of a helicopter crew.

The 31-year-old pilot, who grew up in Grand Rapids and graduated from Tri-Unity Christian School, accomplished his goal and was doing what he loved when he was killed Tuesday near Anbar province in Iraq. His CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed during a routine post-maintenance test flight, killing all five on board.

Charles and Mary Johnson of Gallup, N.M., were informed of their son’s death this morning.

“I found out a helicopter crashed yesterday when I was on the computer and saw a news flash. I clicked on it and saw that it was a Chinook and it was about the area that we knew he was in,” Mary Johnson said in a telephone interview today.

“He always promised to call or e-mail when there was a crash so that we knew he was safe,” she said. “After a whole night of not hearing from him, we knew something was wrong.”

Johnson, a member of Task Force Dragon, had been in Iraq for less than a month, his mother said.

The military said the helicopter was conducting a test flight when it went down near Taqaddum air base. The names of the other four servicemen killed in the crash were withheld pending notification of relatives.

Johnson’s family has been told the crash was an accident. The military said the incident remains under investigation.

Johnson, a husband and father of three, had joined the Army in 1994 and went on to become a a Green Beret. After being part of covert operations around the world, he decided to pursue his dream of flying.

He had assured his mother it would be safer to fly a Chinook.

“He always told me, ’Mom don’t be afraid because it’s the fastest, the biggest and the safest.’ And he told me he wouldn’t have to kill anybody, that he would be transporting things and helping people. He always wanted to help people,” Mary Johnson said.

Family friend Elaine Stam of Albuquerque didn’t know Christopher Johnson, but she did hear a lot about him from his parents.

“His dad was just so proud of him,” she said. “He just lived for Chris’ telephone calls or e-mails. He just loved it. He was so proud.”

Stam said she was devastated after hearing the news Wednesday.

“You just can’t believe it. One month in Iraq and he’s gone,” she said.

His dream of flying included coming home and earning a pilot’s license for fixed-wing aircraft, his mother said.

Before deploying to Iraq this summer, Johnson took his children — ages 4, 7 and 10 — to Grand Rapids and Chicago to share with them the special places where his father had taken him when he was young.

Mary Johnson said the children “just adored their daddy.” In fact, he was working on adopting them since they were his wife’s children from a previous marriage. His wife and children were living in Huntsville, Ala., during Johnson’s deployment.

The pilot had plans to return to Gallup with his family to surprise his parents for Christmas. Instead, the family was dealing with questions of why as they began to prepare for a funeral.

Mary Johnson said her son will be buried in Rehoboth, just east of Gallup. She said he loved the area.

From the Detroit Free Press