Border Patrol Agent, Two National Guard Soldiers Die in Helicopter Crash in Texas

To honor their sacrifice, the Biden administration should secure the border

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 12, 2024

A helicopter crash on Friday afternoon near the Southwest border town of Rio Grande City, Texas, took the lives of two National Guard warrant officers and a Border Patrol agent, underscoring the dangers inherent in immigration enforcement. While the DHS secretary offered condolences for their deaths, the best way for the Biden administration to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by the three would be to secure the border — but it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

The Crash and the Dead. The three who perished are Border Patrol Agent Chris Luna, Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Casey Frankoski, and CW2 John Grassia. They were flying above the Southwest border in a D.C. National Guard UH-72 Lakota helicopter along with a fourth National Guard soldier (identified as Jacob Pratt) on Friday afternoon when it crashed, due to yet unidentified causes.

Luna, who was 51, is survived by his wife, two children, and his parents. On Sunday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, issued a statement that read in part:

Every single day, our Border Patrol Agents place themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can be safe and secure. My thoughts, and the deepest condolences of our Department, are with Agent Luna’s family, loved ones, and colleagues, and with those of the National Guardsmen who lost their lives. We hope for the injured servicemember's swift recovery, and hold our National Guard colleagues and their families in our thoughts as well.

Grassia, 30, was a N.Y. State trooper and had served in the state’s National Guard since 2013, where he was a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter maintenance specialist.

A native of Rotterdam, Grassia joined the N.Y. State Police in 2022, where he was last assigned to the Livingston Station in Hudson, N.Y. Acting N.Y. State Police Superintendent Steven G. James issued a statement in which he promised: “Trooper Grassia's sacrifice, and his commitment to the service of New Yorkers and all Americans will never be forgotten”.

Frankoski was 28 and a native of Rensselaer, N.Y. Press reports have identified her as the daughter of retired Rensselaer Police Chief James Frankoski. The town’s mayor, Mike Stammel, issued a statement that read:

Rensselaer is deeply saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Casey Frankoski, a remarkable New York National Guard helicopter pilot who tragically lost her life in a helicopter crash on Friday while patrolling the US-Mexico border. A proud native of Rensselaer and distinguished graduate of Columbia High School, Casey was not only an excellent student but also excelled in sports and community service before joining the New York National Guard.

Pratt also graduated from high school in Rensselaer, compounding that city’s tragedy.

The Mission. Although Texas National Guard troops have been heavily (and prominently) involved in a state-led effort to bolster overwhelmed Border Patrol agents known as “Operation Lone Star”, this flight was not a part of that mission.

Rather, according to the New York Times, the four were participating in a “routine mission” as part of Joint Task Force North (J-FTN), “a U.S. Defense Department initiative that tracks the boundary along with local and federal law enforcement”.

J-FTN began under the George H.W. Bush administration in 1989 (when it was known as “Joint Task Force 6”) as a counter-drug effort, with its mission expanded in 2004 “to include providing homeland security and support to the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies”.

The Times reports that the helicopter was tracking illegal migrants at the time of the crash.

“Border Patrol Agents Place Themselves in Harm’s Way”. While I applaud Secretary Mayorkas for issuing a statement in response to this tragedy, and second his sentiment that “our Border Patrol Agents place themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can be safe and secure” every single day, his condolences may ring false among many of those agents.

On Saturday, the Border Patrol union tweeted:

The reference is to a March 8 Fox News article, which reports:

Cartel members were seen laughing after a National Guard helicopter carrying three soldiers and a Border Patrol agent crashed near the southern border in Texas.

In video footage from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, obtained by Fox News, cartel members were seen watching the National Guards helicopter plummet to the ground with their drone.

Following the devastating crash, the cartel members were heard cackling.

Again, border security has been a part of JFT-N’s portfolio for nearly two decades, but neither that task force nor the Border Patrol has ever seen a migrant surge like the one that has been ongoing for the last three years.

And regardless of the administration’s deflections of blame and its contentions about “the largest levels of displacement and regional migration in the hemisphere’s history”, unprecedented numbers of aliens have been pouring illegally across the border monthly since February 2021, largely in response to the president’s migrant release policies, as a federal judge concluded last March.

To truly honor the sacrifices made by Agent Luna and CW2s Frankoski and Grassia, the administration should make the jobs of those who remain on the line easier. That would mean reversing the policies drawing massive numbers of migrants to cross the Southwest border illegally, a flow that aids and abets the cartels. Anything less than that, no matter how heartfelt, is just empty words.