‘In his last moment, he was looking out for others’: Family of St. Joe grad Navy pilot mourns ‘tremendous’ loss

Lt. Steven Combs, a 28-year-old graduate of St. Joseph Central High School, died Wednesday when his Navy aircraft crashed in the Philippine Sea. Photo provided by the Navy. DALTON —When growing up in Dalton, Elizabeth and Stephanie Combs were always protective of their little brother, whom they call Stevie. But as adults, now living in different corners of the world, the roles switched and the Navy pilot’s infectious smile and joyful demeanor had an ever-calming effect on those around him, according to his eldest sister.

"Nothing was too serious that we couldn’t get through it together," said Elizabeth Combs, 33, of Monterey, Calif. "He kept us sane."

Navy pilot Lt. Steven Combs Jr., 28, died Wednesday when his twin-engine aircraft, the C-2A Greyhound, went down over the Philippine Sea after taking off from Japan. Eight of the 11 passengers aboard the plane Combs was piloting survived.

Combs, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Matthew Chialastri and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso were not found, but declared dead by the Navy.

The crash, which is the third fatal incident involving the Japan-based US 7th Fleet in the last six months, is under investigation.

Elizabeth Combs, speaking on behalf of her family, whose grief she called "tremendous," said that her brother’s ability to save the lives of a majority of the plane’s crew makes him the hero that they always knew he was.

"That aircraft is not meant to do a water landing and he was able to land it in a way that let people get back to their family," Combs said through tears on Sunday, one day after the Navy identified the deceased sailors. "It does help a little bit, that even in his last moment he was looking out for others. I wouldn’t have expected anything less."

Prior to his death, Combs, a graduate of the now-shuttered St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield and of the University of Colorado at Boulder, was stationed in Japan.

Elizabeth flew out to Japan last year to visit her brother, who did not yet speak the language, but was able to communicate with the locals with his infectious smile, she said.

She was planning to see her brother next at her wedding, which has been canceled.

"I was supposed to be getting married in about three weeks. He was coming home for that," Elizabeth Combs said. "We’ve canceled that. There’s no way that we can pretend to be happy."

When the family was together, Steven Combs was what his sister describes as a "goofball."

When conversations began to take a serious turn, Combs would lighten the mood, a trait that the family learned to depend on and appreciated when he was present.He’d tell his family stories about his life in Japan, but also make every effort to know about their lives at home. While he was away, the family kept in contact through phone calls and FaceTime. When he got through to one family member, there would be a phone chain letting each other know what the pilot had to say, according to Combs.His […]