NORFOLK, Va. – Two FBI agents who died while training off the Virginia Beach coast fell to their deaths when a helicopter had trouble during a “maritime counterterrorism exercise,” an agency spokeswoman said Monday night.
Special Agents Christopher Lorek and Stephen Shaw were killed when they fell into the water Friday. Both were members of the bureau’s elite hostage rescue team, a group known most recently for rescuing an Alabama boy from a kidnapper in an underground bunker.
“The FBI agents were participating in a maritime counterterrorism exercise involving helicopters and a ship,” Special Agent Ann Todd, an FBI spokeswoman, wrote in an email Monday night. “The agents were in the process of fast-roping from the aircraft onto the ship when the helicopter encountered difficulties. The agents tragically fell a significant distance and suffered fatal injuries.”
It will likely be weeks before a formal cause of death is determined because the state medical examiner’s regional office is waiting for toxicology results.
The team is trained in military tactics and outfitted with combat-style gear and weapons. Some of their preparation consists of scuba diving, dropping quickly out of helicopters and battling in close quarters.
“They’re really the best of the best as far as civilians. Their only counterpart would be something like Navy SEAL Team 6 or U.S. Army Delta,” said Clint VanZandt, a former FBI hostage negotiator who deployed with the rescue team.
Dale Gauding, a spokesman for Sentara Healthcare, said the men were brought to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in a helicopter, but he declined to say what their conditions were upon arrival, deferring questions to the FBI.
The Coast Guard said it was not involved, although it was notified about 11:30 p.m. Friday. The incident occurred about 12 miles from the coastline.
Lorek, 41, is survived by his wife and two daughters. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1993 with a degree in ocean engineering. He joined the FBI in 1996.
Shaw, 40, joined the FBI in 2005. He is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.
The FBI will be holding a private memorial service for the agents today.