Missing Navy Pilot a Santee Native

Family members and friends of a former Santee man who was piloting a Navy helicopter when it crashed off the Virginia coast are praying for a miracle.

Sean Snyder, 39, was one of five men on board an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter that searches for sea mines, but Wednesday it crashed during a routine training exercise. Only two of the four sailors recovered and brought to a local hospital survived. Snyder is the only crew member unaccounted for.

Described as a decorated pilot who was proud and grateful to serve his country, Snyder is a husband and father of four kids. His parents live in Santee and flew out almost immediately to be with their family on the East Coast.

"Sean grew up here, went to school at Santana, we all did," said neighbor Cindy Esler. “It's really difficult because I'd heard Craig talk about his son and how he enjoyed the military and flying helicopters. I'm sure it's gotta be hard for him."

A father of three boys and one daughter, Sean moved his family to the East Coast several years back. More than 24 hours after the search was called off Thursday in part because of frigid ocean temperatures, reality is setting in.

"It's gotta be rough on Sean's kids too,” Esler said. “I know a couple of them are older so they realize what’s going on."

The Navy says it's not known why the 34-ton chopper crashed. The investigation is complicated by the necessity of conducting a salvage operation in the Atlantic to reclaim the wreckage.

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