Navy pilot killed in aircraft collision at Patuxent River
The Weaponeer Staff
Lieutenant Commander Christopher Tragna, a Navy pilot, was killed April 2, 2002, when two contractor-owned, two-seater airplanes collided during a formation takeoff at 2:50 p.m., at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Tragna, 32, was a flight instructor from Long Island, New York.
Lieutenant Kevin Quarderer, 35, a systems flight instructor from Midland, Texas, and two civilians, Karl Schlimm, 37, and Paul Molnar, 38, of Fighter Combat International, were treated and released from the Air Station Medical Clinic.
Naval Air Station Patuxent River fire and rescue units immediately responded. Both planes are owned by Fighter Combat International. The two Extra 300L propeller planes were operating at NAS Patuxent River under a contract with the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. The Navy is investigating the cause of the mishap.
April 12, 2002
Family, friends bid farewell
For the fallen:The station flag flies at half mast Friday for Lieutenant Commander Christopher Tragna, a Test Pilot School instructor killed in a crash here April 2, 2002.
Chris Schimenti met Christopher Tragna more than a decade ago at the Naval Academy and quickly learned what Tragna's friends and family already knew: He loved flying.
“Chris could not stop talking about aviation and flying,” Schimenti said at a memorial service Friday. “It drove me and my wife nuts.”
But Tragna's fondness for aviation was also what endeared him to many people, including Schimenti, who spent so much time at Tragna's home that he was affectionately referred to as “the live-in.”
Those memories were part of a sometimes emotional, sometimes humorous tribute to Tragna, who was killed April 2 in an aircraft collision here.
The 32-year-old pilot instructor was in one of two planes that were on the same runway, taking off in formation, when they collided.
Around 540 people made up an overflow crowd that spilled out of St. Nicholas Chapel to honor “Trags,” as he was affectionately known.
Tragna's parents, Charles Tragna and Anna Hernandez, attended, along with Tragna's brother, Jeffrey Tragna, and half-sister, Joanna Hernandez. Tragna's in-laws also attended, and seated behind Tragna's widow was Colleen O'Hare, whose husband, Lieutenant Commander Ray O'Hare, died in a T-38 crash here in July 2001. Tragna's widow, Desiree, had asked Schimenti to say a few words about her husband. Schimenti and his wife were friends with the Tragnas but became even closer because both couples were “married without children,” Schimenti said.
Tragna was remembered as a man who loved his wife, the Yankees, wrestling with his dog, Bungee, and flying.
“We all knew that he loved aviation, and anyone who's ever been to his basement knows that,” said Lieutenant Commander Manuel Picon. “It's like a museum.”
Picon recalled when he and his wife had a Christmas tree ornament swap with the Tragnas.
“He had made us a model of the Wright flyer out of toothpicks, Elmer's glue and a paper clip,” Picon said. “It looked like it belonged on Charlie Brown's Christmas tree and we were proud to have it on ours.”
Tragna, a native of Northport, New York, graduated salutatorian from his high school before graduating with distinction from the Naval Academy in 1991.
He was a student in Class 117 at Test Pilot School here and, after designation as a test pilot, he reported to the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron as a member of the F/A-18 E/F Integrated Test Team in July 2000.
At the memorial service, Vice Admiral Joe Dyer presented Tragna's widow with a Meritorious Service Medal from President Bush for the pilot's outstanding service as a flight instructor.
“Demonstrating an unparalleled leadership, enthusiasm, technical expertise, and professionalism, Lieutenant Commander Tragna successfully planned and executed the Airborne Systems and Fixed Wing syllabi for the school,” the citation read.
The citation also praised Tragna's qualification in all systems and fixed wing exercises, which allowed TPS to overcome instructor-manning shortfalls and streamline instruction processes.
“As the F/A-18 Technical Evaluation Monitor, he successfully managed 19 flight evaluation exercises, supervising the flawless execution of 160 student sorties. Additionally, he proactively reformulated and updated the content of the flight exercise, thus exceeding the Department of Defense standards. With his extraordinary foresight and attention to detail, he meticulously tracked the qualifications of 11 F/A-18 instructor pilots, ensuring stringent standardization and resulting in zero missed exercise sorties to staff qualification issues.”
A memorial fund is being set up for Tragna, and interment with full military honors is scheduled for April 25 at Arlington National Cemetery. Visitation was Tuesday and Wednesday, and a funeral mass was scheduled for today on Long Island.
In his tribute to Tragna on Friday, Schimenti said what many who knew Tragna probably thought: “He died doing what he loved.”
The family requests that memorials be sent to the American Liver Foundation, c/o The Brueggemann Funeral Home, 522 Larkfield Road, East Northport, New York 11731.
From Christopher's Mom, Anna K. Hernandez: 19 February 2009:
Lieutenant Commander Christopher Tragna graduated Salutatorian in 1987 from Northport High School located in Long Island, New York, and soon entered the United States Naval Academy graduating in 1991 with Distinction finishing in the top 40 of his class.
His career with the Navy was distinguished. In 1994, he completed fleet replacement training in the F/A-18 “Hornet” and soon reported to the “Marauders of Fighter Attack Squadron 82” stationed at Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Florida. With Squadron 82, he completed a Mediterranean and Persian Gulf cruise aboard the USS America supporting Operations Deliberate Force and Southern Watch.
His accomplishments were rewarded with selection to the Naval Post Graduate Test-School Cooperative Program – acceptance to the program is a prestigious honor. After completing his studies in Aerospace Engineering, he reported to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1999. Upon designation as a Test Pilot, he became a member of the F/A 18 Test Team of the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron in Patuxent River, Maryland. As a Test Pilot, he was behind several successful test projects and in July 2001 became a Test Pilot flight instructor.
Chris had accumulated over 1700 hours in more than 25 aircraft and his medals included the Strike Fighter Air Medal and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Chris was killed in April 2002 while testing an aircraft under contract with the Navy.
TRAGNA, CHRISTOPHER C
- LCDR US NAVY
- DATE OF BIRTH: 10/17/1969
- DATE OF DEATH: 04/02/2002
- BURIED AT: SECTION 68 SITE 4597
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard