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U.S. Marine pilots killed in weekend crash identified, mourned

PHOENIX (Reuters) – The U.S. Marines on Monday identified two helicopter pilots who were killed over the weekend when their airship crashed in Arizona during training maneuvers, calling it a “somber day” for the service.

Major Matthew M. Weigand of Ambler, Pennsylvania, and Captain Travis W. Bannon from Nashville, Tennessee, died when their AH-IZ Viper helicopter went down near Yuma during a weapons and tactics instructor course, Brigadier General Roger Turner said in a written statement.”It is a somber day for the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command as we mourn this tremendous loss,” Turner said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags in the state lowered to half-staff on Tuesday to honor the two Marines.

“Major Wiegand and Captain Brannon served our country honorably. We are incredibly grateful for their willingness to put on the uniform and put their lives on the line in order to keep our country safe. Our prayers are with their family and loved ones and the entire Marine community in Yuma during this time,” Ducey said.

The Pentagon has said that the cause of the crash, at approximately 8:45 p.m. PDT on Saturday, would be investigated.

Wiegand, 34, was previously stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, and Marine Corps Base Camp in Pendleton, California, and was deployed in Okinawa, Japan, according to the Marine Corps. His personal decorations included the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with gold star in lieu of second award.

Brannon, 30, was a pilot assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

His previous duty stations include Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps said.

Brannon participated in Marine Rotational Force in Darwin, Australia. His personal decorations include the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

The AH-1Z Viper, a twin-engine attack helicopter built by Textron Inc subsidiary Bell Helicopter, and entered production in late 2010. The Marine Corps was to acquire a total of 189 of the aircraft, according to a March 7 statement.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and David Schwartz in Phoenix, editing by G Crosse

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