Army aviator, former N.H. student killed in Apache helicopter crash

  • U.S. Army Warrant Officer James Casadona —Courtesy

  • U.S. Army Warrant Officer James Casadona pictured with his mother, Cheri Casadona. James Casadona, a graduate of New Hampton School, was one of two pilots killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise in Kentucky on Friday, April 6, 2018. Courtesy

  • U.S. Army Warrant Officer James Casadona with his father, Jim, and his mother, Cheri. —Courtesy

  • U.S. Army Warrant Officer James Casadona —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Thursday, April 12, 2018

James Casadona, a graduate of New Hampton School, knew early on he wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and join the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I remember the phone call like it was yesterday,” Retired Marine Master Sgt. Dan Crim said of the conversation with his nephew in 2011. “We talked about so much, including what field he should go into – and I told him intelligence – and how the Marine Corps could enhance his life. ... I knew he was going to come out on top in everything. He was headstrong. He believed in the military.”

Casadona, who went by Jimmy, enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 2012, and served five years as a signals intelligence analyst and radio reconnaissance operator, finishing his enlistment as a sergeant before joining the U.S. Army last year.

The 28-year-old warrant officer was one of two pilots taking part in a training mission Friday night when their AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed at Fort Campbell, Ky., an Army post that straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Casadona and Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Connolly, 37, were killed in the crash. Both soldiers were assigned to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

“He loved aviation, he loved flying and he loved his country,” Crim said of Casadona. “I loved him as if he was my own son. This hurts a lot. It’s tragic.”

The Army Times reported that the crew was conducting routine training at the time of the crash. The cause remains under investigation.

Casadona had strong ties to New Hampshire, where some of his family members still live today. He was a 2008 graduate of New Hampton School, a boarding and college preparatory school in Belknap County.

In a statement this week, school officials said they extend their deepest sympathies to the Casadona family during this difficult time of loss.

“James was a wonderful member of our school community, well-loved and respected by his classmates, teachers and coaches,” the prep school said.

After graduating from New Hampton School, Casadona went on to study at two universities before enlisting in the Marine Corps. When he decided to leave that branch of the armed forces last year, he did so to pursue his passion for aviation. Casadona graduated from flight school this past February and thereafter arrived at his billet in Kentucky.

Casadona’s decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and an Army Service Ribbon.

“The Destiny Brigade has suffered a great tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased,” Col. Craig Alia, commander of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate event, and we are saddened by the loss of our fellow soldiers.”

A memorial service for Casadona and Connolly is scheduled for Thursday at the Army base. Family members and friends traveled from New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida to attend.

Crim said plans for a funeral service closer to home are in the works.

Bristol police Sgt. Aaron Chapple created a GoFundMe page Tuesday in Casadona’s name to help the family pay for travel expenses to and from Kentucky as well as funeral costs not covered by the military.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)