UPDATE: Sachem Alum, Marine Injured in Helicopter Crash

One man died, others injured during training exercise.

UPDATE 2: According to his mother Darlene Brandafino-Claus, Ronnie Brandafino's progress has slowed down, but he has not taken a step back.

“Though each day brings more questions about what level of healing we can actually anticipate, I work very hard not to project,” she said. “I remain grateful for the gift of my son.”

Brandafino-Claus said she thinks constantly about the family of Cpl. Jonathan D. Faircloth, who lost his life in the same accident her son was injured in.

“What words can a Marine mom whose son was spared say to the Marine mom whose precious son was lost,” she said. “My heart is broken for his family and though this is their loss every time a Marine is lost, I have been brought to my knees. This is one time it will be much harder to get back up.”

Brandafino-Claus wants to convey the gratitude she feels for the Sachem community, particularly for Catherine Rafferty at Lynwood Elementary School. She has maintained constant contact with Brandafino-Claus’ husband and has been a source of strength for her daughter Alexandra, a fourth grade student at Lynwood. Sagamore has been a tremendous support as well for her son Alan, a seventh grader.

“I understand the entire Sachem community has rallied around my family and there is a loss of words for how that has made me feel,” she said. “We have so much to be grateful for, so while our struggles are not over and the future is based in 24-hour intervals of the moment we are in, I will end for now with a quote by Emily Dickinson that describes where I am, ‘Hope is thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops...at all.’”

UPDATE 1: Cpl. Ronnie Brandafino is still at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after his Sea Stallion helicopter crashed last week. His family is sitting by his side night and day.

Brandafino was due to come home April 16 after serving his country for five years in the U.S. Marines.

“He was ready for his life to take a new and exciting turn,” said his mother Darlene Brandafino-Claus via email, who mentioned he was hoping to go to Farmingdale College with a buddy he has served with in Hawaii who is from Nassau County.

“I sit bewildered by the events of the past three days and have moments when it feels like an eternity and other times it barely feels real,” she said. “Two tours and home safe and just about coming home and he falls from the sky.”

She said the phone call she received on Wednesday morning is one she has had nightmares about so many times before and until that morning she believed she had escaped ever having to live it.

“But as I sit here I know we are blessed for what should surely have been one of the absolute worst moments of my life as a mom has given me new strength,” she said. “[It has] allowed me to see the truly amazing man my son is and has renewed the way I see others.”

Brandafino-Claus said the prayers and support offered has left her speechless. Her son's very large Marine Corps family has stood by their sides everyday for hours on end, telling her stories about him and keeping him going, motivated to heal.

Alicia Faircloth, the wife of the fallen Marine Jonathan Faircloth who died in the crash, has been at the hospital everyday, “though she has unspeakable, unimaginable pain from the loss of her husband, she worries about Ronnie, cheers him on and reminds him she loves him and doesn't want to lose him too.”

“Mostly though I have watched a miracle unfold with my son,” she said. “Though not out of the woods, and in extreme pain, I have watched [him] heal little by little.”

His breathing tube is out.

“I'm listening to him breath and it is the most beautiful sound I have ever ever heard and though this is a difficult time, I am grateful.”

Original story: A Sachem alum and U.S. Marine was injured in a helicopter crash in Hawaii Tuesday.

Cpl. Ronnie Brandafino, 23, of Farmingville and a Sachem East graduate from the Class of 2005, was riding in a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter when it crashed off Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, according to the Marines Corp.

According to NavyTimes.com, Cpl. Jonathan D. Faircloth, 22, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., died in the crash.

HawaiiNewsNow.com is reporting that Brandafino, and two others, are in stable condition at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu.

Navy Times said the pilots issued a mayday call and were making an emergency landing about 7:20 p.m. Tuesday about two miles off the coast of the air station when the mishap occurred.

Brandafino, a crew chief with the U.S. Marines Lucky Red Lions, served his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2008 and returned home safely from being in Afghanistan on another tour in October.

"Although we're used to the military flying over our house this sound was very unique. It sounded like a distressing sound which of course drew my attention,” Joe Souza, a witness, told Hawaii News Now. “I went out to take a look right before the bird hit the sandbar and had its rough landing with a loud crash, a loud boom and a lot of spray and a lot of sand that got disturbed by the landing."

According to multiple reports, the men were conducting training exercises.

Through his mother Darlene Brandafino-Claus, last season at Sachem East the and written letters to pilots in Brandafino’s group.

Now the family is hoping the Sachem community can send their thoughts and prayers to Hawaii.

Brandafino-Claus did not immediately return an email about the incident. One report said she and her family flew to Hawaii to be with her son.

Sachem Patch will update this story when possible. 

lara buscatelli April 02, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Our prayers are with the families that lost their children and we wish Cpl Brandafino a quick and speedy recovery. Thank you all for your selfless, courageous service.
Bill Ventura April 10, 2011 at 01:44 PM
As a proud dad of two Marines I pray for your son's quick recovery and grieve for his fallen brother. Your families strength will carry you throught this time. As a Maine family we want you to know you are not alone out here when one Marine hurts we all hurt. May God bless your son on speedy recovery. Stay Strong Semper Fi.
Michelle Brandafino April 10, 2011 at 11:48 PM
I just want to say Samoset Middle School has also been very helpful in helping Ronnie's step-brothers also cope with this tragedy and the absence of their step-father Frank Brandafino as he is also by his sons side until he is ready to come home! All our love Ronnie.... Michelle, Dakota & Dallas
Esther Perks April 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM
I just want to thank everyone for all your prayers for my grandson Ronnie Brandafino and for my daughter Darlene and her family. Please keep the prayers going, also please pray for the family of Jonathan Faircloth who lost their son in this tragedy. God bless you Ronnie. Love you soooo much grandma and grandpa
Rebecca Mays April 17, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Praying for Ronnie and all of you. My son is also in the Marines and is serving in a Helicopter unit. He knows Ronnie and has asked for him to be added to a prayer list at our church here in Georgia. We will continue to pray for his and the pilot's recoveries and will also continually remember Jonathan's family. God Bless you all. Becky Mays Woodstock GA


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