TERRI S. FUSSNER, LT, USN
Terri Fussner '96
Date of birth: March 13, 1974
Date of death: March 12, 2002
From the 1996 Lucky Bag:
From the Southeast Missourian on March 14, 2002:
ST. LOUIS -- The Navy said Wednesday it has called off its search for a suburban St. Louis woman and two other crew members now presumed to have died after their Navy helicopter crashed into the Mediterranean Sea during a routine training flight.
Searchers "found a helmet, but it wasn't her's," Joyce Fussner tearfully told The Associated Press from her home in Ballwin, where family members had hoped for "a miracle" in the air and sea search for Lt. Terri Sue Fussner, missing since the crash Tuesday off the coast of Greece.
"We were wishing against all odds that some miracle would happen, that they would find her.
"But I think they (searchers) have given up hope," Joyce Fussner said on her missing daughter's 28th birthday
The mother said a Navy official in Florida she spoke to by telephone and two others who visited the Fussners' home Wednesday told the family "that basically they were ending the search," and that it was unclear whether the helicopter and its crew would be recovered.
"God almighty, I hope they go down and get it and retrieve my daughter and her friends," Joyce Fussner said, crying.
Lt. Fussner, of Manchester, Mo., disappeared Tuesday with Lt. Wayne Francis Roberts, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jason Edward Lawson, 21, of Smyrna, Ga., when the SH-60B Seahawk they were in went down.
While confirming in a statement Wednesday evening that the search had been called off, the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet did not indicate any plans to retrieve the helicopter or recover the crew's remains. Calls to the 6th Fleet in Italy went unanswered.
The helicopter was operating from the destroyer USS Hayler as part of Helicopter Squadron Light 46, whose home port is Mayport, Fla. The Hayler was about 90 miles off the coast of Greece when it lost radar contact and communications with the helicopter.
On Tuesday, Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, a spokesman for the 6th Fleet, said searchers had found pieces of debris of the helicopter.
Crew members were equipped with life vests and emergency breathing devices, though it was unclear how long they could survive in the water, Balice said.
"There's always an outside chance that a miracle could happen," Joyce Fussner said Wednesday. "There's always hope. You can always wish."
But with no sign of survivors in the hours after the wreck, Lt. Fussner's family braced for official word that the crew was dead.
"I knew it was coming; there was no doubt in my mind," Joyce Fussner said. "Searchers didn't find anything. It had to end."
Lt. Fussner, a lifelong Ballwin resident before entering the military, had been deployed overseas since October and was to complete that assignment April 1, her mother said.
Lt. Fussner graduated in 1992 from Parkway South High School, where she was active in the honor society, starred on the swim team and was a cheerleader. Later while attending the Naval Academy, she again swam, led cheers and met her husband, Navy Lt. Garrett Luebker.
"She always ran," Joyce Fussner said of the daughter who in her free time competed in triathlons and marathons, events requiring strong swimming.
While her daughter was overseas, Joyce Fussner said, the family communicated with her by e-mail, last talking with her by telephone last Friday when she wished her father a happy birthday.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 14, 2002:
[At Parkway South High School] Nancy Allen coached Fussner to a state cheerleading championship title in 1991, helped her do fitness tests to get into the Naval Academy and stayed in touch with Fussner after she graduated.
Fussner had learned she would be assigned as a Navy flight instructor, Allen said.
“We always talked about fighter pilots,” Allen said. “In her last message she told me, ‘You’d be proud. I’ll be a teacher.’”
Allen said Fussner had competed in triathlons, run marathons and loved adventure.
“Fitness was a big part of her life,” Allen said. “She knew she could do anything men did.”
“She had a passion for life,” Allen said. “She was going to be home in five weeks. She was going to be a teacher . . .” Allen’s voice broke, and other teachers put their arms around her.
Fred McConnell coached Fussner in swimming, softball and other physical education courses.
“Challenges she took head on,” McConnell said.
Fussner was an A student who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class. She found time for activities such as track, swimming, student council and the National Honor Society. Her classmates picked her as prom queen.
Mike Hopkins taught Fussner in a sophomore honors English class.
“She was magnetic,” Hopkins recalled. “She always had a smile. Kids gravitated toward her.
“She made doing the right thing seem cool.”