Thursday, August 23, 2007

Michael A. Hook dies 'of injuries suffered when his helicopter crashed'

The last time Larry Hook talked to his son Michael was on Saturday, when the young soldier called his father from Iraq to tell him he'd received a package just in time for his 26th birthday, today.

Michael Hook, of Altoona, didn't live long enough to see his birthday, but the father and son did talk for more than an hour, "and I'm grateful for that," said Mr. Hook.

On Wednesday, Michael Hook, an Army specialist who was finishing up his first yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, was killed along with 13 other U.S. soldiers when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a nighttime mission in northern Iraq. The military said it appeared the aircraft was lost due to mechanical problems. There were no survivors.

The Black Hawk was one of two helicopters that had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed, according to Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman in northern Iraq. The four crew and 10 passengers aboard were assigned to Task Force Lightning.

"He was hot and tired," recalled Larry Hook, speaking from his home in Little Egg Harbor, just north of Atlantic City, N.J. "He said he was ready to come home. I just told him to be careful and come home safely."

Spc. Hook was scheduled to have a month's leave in October, when he planned to return to Altoona to marry his fiancee, Suzie Fetterman, who is expecting the couple's baby boy next month.

Friends and family described a young man who, while playing football for Altoona High School, was fiercely competitive and focused, yet with a rollicking sense of humor.

"He was a tough young man," said his coach, Phil Ricchio, who said Spc. Hook was a defensive lineman on the Mountain Lions team. "He worked extremely hard and loved lifting weights. He got injured early in the season and worked his tail off to get back on the field. Yet he was funny and personable throughout, and would have been successful at whatever he chose to do.

"It really puts things in perspective, what's a game, what's life. This is really a tragedy."

After attending Altoona High, Spc. Hook went to live with his father in Atlantic City for a year, before returning to his hometown to work for a roofing contractor.

Troy Pincherri, 24, first met Michael Hook in junior high school, played football with him, and recalled talking with him soon after he enlisted in the Army.

"He was really proud to be in the military and doing this for his country," Mr. Pincherri said. "On the football field, he was a great competitor, yet really laid back and genuine off the field. I was really shocked when I heard the news. I see his mom around town a lot, and we say hello. They're a nice family."

Larry Hook said his son never questioned his decision to go into the military.

"He elected to go on his own and I didn't try to talk him out of it. I thought, and still think, it was a good move. He planned to make a career of it, while furthering his education.

"It's just cause, us being over there, and this doesn't change my opinion. Michael died doing what he wanted to do."

Funeral arrangements in Altoona are pending, family members said.

From the Post Gazette