OLYMPIA – A crew of Navy helicopter pilots and firefighters were honored Wednesday at the Capitol for saving lives in a search-and-rescue effort in the immediate aftermath of the Oso landslide that killed 43 people last March.
Backed by a Navy musical ensemble in the Capitol’s rotunda, Gov. Jay Inslee, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro and current state lawmakers made remarks before awarding the medals to the first reponders.
“We had tremendous professionalism to respond to the local emergency [in Oso],” Inslee said, addressing the crowd. Wednesday was Navy Day in Olympia.
Four aviators were honored, as well as three Navy firefighters. Chief Richard Andraschko was given the Navy and Marine Corps Medal — the second highest honor given to someone in the Navy or Marine Corp in a non-combat situation. The other three airmen, Lt. Cmdr. David Waner, Lt. Robert Merin and Naval Aircrewman Second Class David Scott were given Navy And Marine Corps Air Medals.
The firefighters, Michael Wenzel, Ian Walton, and Kevin Paggao, received Navy Fire and Emergency Service Life Saving Awards in March, and were also honored Wednesday.
The group flew from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to respond to the slide.
“Seeing those aviators come in, seeing those folks come in from our military in our time of need was priceless,” said State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, at the ceremony.
Munro read statements from President Barack Obama and afterward, the Navy members spoke with the media about their experiences in the slide’s aftermath.
“It’s a really sad time for the people who lost everything, our hearts go out to them and our prayers,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Waner, the mission commander. “It was an honor to be there to help the people we could help.”