Last week, U.S. Marine fighter pilot Major Taj Sareen was killed when his F/A-18C Hornet experienced a mechanical malfunction and crashed shortly after takeoff from Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
Maj. Sareen and five other fighter pilots were on their way back to their home base in California. His squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 232, aka the Red Devils, was part of Operation Inherent Resolve and was carrying out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS.
But it was what Sareen did moments before his tragic death that truly embodied the selfless fighting spirit of our U.S. Marines.
Witnesses to the crash said in his final moments, the pilot appeared to make a concerted effort to steer his stricken plane away from homes, despite losing precious seconds and altitude before ejecting – a split-second decision that may have cost him his life.
As The Examiner reports, “Karen Miles-Holdaway, 48, was in her garden, which backs onto the field where the jet crashed. She stated that it seemed as if the aviator was deliberately steered the rapidly descending warplane away from homes beneath him. “It came over the houses much lower than they normally do,” she said. “Then I heard the noise which I can only describe as like an afterburner noise, a huge sound and nothing like the jets we normally have over here.” “We didn’t realize it had actually come down, it was not really one loud bang,” she also said. “I have to say the whole community is feeling for the pilot’s family, and we send our condolences and prayers. I think that he could have ejected earlier, but was trying to avoid the houses and for that we are incredibly grateful.”
Maj. Sareen began a career in the corporate world, after graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2004. But the following year, he made the decision to serve his country, and joined the Marines. During his 11-year career, he also completed a Masters degree in Military and Strategic Leadership from Auburn University and received numerous decorations including the Air Wing version of the ground combat component’s Combat Action Ribbon – the Air Medal.
Major Sareen, you embodied all that is great in our nation, and perhaps your family will gain some comfort in knowing you now guard the gates of heaven.