Fallen pilot remembered through truck restoration

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A local community continues to rally behind a family who lost their husband and father last January — but not in the way you might think.

A little more than a year ago a Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of Virginia Beach. Three men, including Lt. Sean Snyder, were killed.

Lt. Sean Snyder stands next to the old farm truck he wanted to restore for his three sons. (Photo courtesy Snyder Family)
Lt. Sean Snyder stands next to the old farm truck he wanted to restore for his three sons. (Photo courtesy Snyder Family)

About two years before the crash, Snyder brought a 1960 Ford F-100 back home to Virginia Beach. The rusty, old farm truck had been in his family for years. Snyder wanted to restore it for his three sons.

“He wanted to do it as a father-son kind of project,” said Greg Paules, Snyder’s friend and a fellow pilot. “They had started it just to get it on the road, and they were driving it.”

The project was cut short January 8, 2014. Snyder was flying the MH-53 E Sea Dragon that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Four others were on board the helicopter; Lt. Wesley Van Dorn and Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Collins died along with Snyder.

“He was a real family man, and that was kind of why we wanted to help out with this,” Paules said. “He got this truck and he had all these big plans for it.”

WAVY/Liz Palka
WAVY/Liz Palka

Paules is one of many making sure the plans continue. For the last month, Snyder’s friends, co-workers from the squadron, and his teenage son, Brady, have been meeting in Paules’ garage to work on the truck. He said, somewhere around a dozen people have been involved in restoring and preserving the truck so far.

“The guy down the street that has the truck bed is in the same squadron,” Paules said. “The guy that is going to take the motor and fix that up is in the same squadron. The guy that’s going to come over and do the metal work on rust on the bottom is in the same squadron. So, it’s kind of a big community thing.”

Paules said the goal is to get the farm truck up and running by the end of May.

“We just want to make it reliable so Brady can get another 20 to 30 years out of it without having to do anything, other than routine maintenance,” Paules said.

Paules said their plan is to give the truck new brakes, a new wiring harness, exhaust system, windows, and relocate the gas tank.

“It will look like an old, rusty farm truck,” Paules said. “But underneath it will be all sealed up and coated and painted and new.”

When the truck is back up and running again, Snyder’s wife, Amy, and their four children will have a piece of him to take with them wherever they want to go.

“It’s just cool that the kids will have a piece of dad left,” Paules said.

If you would like to learn more about the project to restore Snyder’s farm truck, check out the group’s Facebook pageYou can also make a donation to support the restoration through this fundraising site.

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