Family, friends celebrate life of NY airman killed in Iraq helicopter crash

MANHATTAN — Family, friends and co-workers of Major Christopher "Tripp" Zanetis celebrated his life Wednesday night at Rise bar on the West Side.

Zanetis was one of seven people killed earlier this month when their helicopter crashed at the Iraq-Syria border. Sister Angela Zanetis said it was his third tour.

"He had been in Afghanistan twice and did not have to be there this time, which is very bittersweet for our family," Zanetis said.

Zanetis was not only part of the Air National Guard's 106 Rescue Wing, but also an NYU graduate, an FDNY fire marshal, a Stanford Law School graduate and, most recently, an associate at a New York law firm.

Openly gay, he was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ issues. Loved ones said he accomplished more in 37 years than some people do in a lifetime.

"He was out there helping the world. That's what Tripp was wired to do," Zanetis said

Wednesday's event was a party to celebrate the airman's life. Family said he wanted a party instead of something sad. But he is missed in Engine 28 Ladder 11 in the East Village.

"Devasting, that's the only word that really comes to mind," firefighter Michael Pignataro said.

Former co-pilots said he was who you wanted to be with in a dangerous situation.

"And the guy never wanted to leave the cockpit. He wanted to save lives," retired Lt. Col. Gregory Glennon said.

Major Shaun Cullen, also a former co-pilot, escorted Zanetis' casket back to their base in Westhampton Tuesday.

"I got to sit in the helicopter with just his casket and myself and just kinda talk to him a little bit and say, 'Tripp I'm taking you home. I'm bringing you back to your parents. I'm bringing you back to your friends, your family, all your loved ones and I love you,'" Cullen said.

The celebration of Major Tripp Zanetis will continue Thursday. There will be an FDNY processional ceremony from Engine 28 Ladder 11 to Washington Square Park. Then there will be a reception for family and friends at NYU.