Sailor with local ties among 3 killed in Navy plane crash

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Lieutenant Steve Combs had planned to be reunited with family at his sister's wedding next month. Instead, his family gathered at his parents’ home in Manatee this week, as the Navy officially suspended the search for three sailors lost at sea after their transport plane crashed into the Philippine Sea.

“We found out Wednesday that he was missing and that was probably the toughest day for us because when they tell you someone’s missing, you kind of know that the odds are not in their favor,” explained Major Elizabeth Combs, Steve’s oldest sister. 

Combs and two other sailors went missing when their C-2A Greyhound transport plane crashed Wednesday. Eight sailors were rescued, but Combs, Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso and Airman Matthew Chialastri were lost at sea. 

“I would give anything to have him back. We’re shattered,” said Elizabeth.

Combs' parents live in Manatee County in the Lakewood Ranch community. The 28-year-old grew up in Massachusetts before attending the University of Colorado Boulder.

A talented downhill skier, Combs’ friends say the outgoing athlete knew no strangers.

“He was a very fun-loving person. He was a blast to be around and had a great sense of humor. He was always laughing,” said childhood best friend Brian Pedrotti.

Growing up, friends and family say Combs always dreamed of flying.

“Whatever he put his mind to he could do and he never stopped until his goals were complete,” said Pedrotti.

The son of Navy parents, Combs followed suit by electing to fly for his country.

“There are people in this world who say they’re patriotic and then there are those who actually live it,” explained Elizabeth. “Steve was the embodiment of what it was to be proud to be part of this country.”

Elizabeth says her baby brother was nearing the end of a three-year tour in Japan. He was scheduled to come back stateside for her wedding in December, before wrapping up his naval career in the spring. Elizabeth says she’s now postponed her ceremony.

“We’re canceling it,” Elizabeth said through tears.

Through their grief, however, Elizabeth says her family is extremely proud of Combs’ final accomplishment. 

“He did something no one in the history of the aircraft has been able to do. He landed an aircraft in the high swells in such a way that eight people went home to their families,” added Elizabeth. “We will always love him and will miss him for the rest of our lives.”