Salem mourns the loss of Navy sailor killed in helicopter crash

James “Jimmy” Buriak graduated Salem High School in 2008

SALEM, Va. – The Salem community is mourning the loss of one of its own. Air Crewman 2nd Class Jim Buriak was one of the five Navy sailors killed in a helicopter crash last week.

For David Turk, it’s a trip to the basement in search of good memories for the wrong reason. Turk was the longtime Salem High School boys lacrosse coach. He knew Jimmy well, describing him as the epitome of a Salem student-athlete.

“When I think about Jimmy Buriak, the first thing I always think about is just what an incredible young man he was,” Turk said.

Buriak graduated in 2008 and grew from a star athlete into a Navy rescue swimmer. Last week he and four other sailors died during a routine helicopter flight, crashing off the California coast.

“Just tremendous pride in him and who he was and how he loved his country and was helping to take care of all of us back here in Salem,” Turk said.

Turk shared old game footage of Buriak playing at Salem High, wearing his #23 jersey. He later wore #26 at Roanoke College, where his father, Jim Buriak, just retired after 40 years as an athletic trainer.

10 News talked with the elder Buriak last year after his son heroically rescued a swimmer at a beach while off-duty in Guam.

“I was proud, really proud, he’s a good kid and likes to help other people,” Jim Buriak told 10 News of his son in that interview.

Buriak leaves behind a wife and young child, an online fundraiser has been started to support them.

Turk said Buriak helped take Salem to the state championship for one of the first times and Turk said he’ll never forget the leader Buriak was.

“Jimmy was one of those guys that set that special example that no it’s not just game day, it’s every day, you’ve got to put in the work, you’ve got to take the time,” Turk said. “You know Jimmy understood that and Jimmy did the work that it took.”

Turk said he plans to work with the team to do something in Buriak’s memory. Roanoke College also shared this touching obituary.

Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class James P. Buriak died Aug. 31 in the crash of an MH-60S U.S. Navy helicopter embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The helicopter crashed into the sea while conducting routine flight operations off the coast of San Diego.

Buriak was one of a six-person crew of the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, five of whom died in the crash. All were attached to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8, which is based at Naval Air Station North Island in the San Diego Bay.

Buriak was a 2012 graduate of Roanoke College and the son of Jim Buriak, who retired earlier this year as athletic trainer and associate professor of health and human performance. AWS Buriak, a graduate of Salem High School who majored in sports management at Roanoke, was 31.

In 2020, Buriak was recognized for a heroic rescue of a man caught in a rip current on Gun Beach in Guam. Buriak said he had trained for all types of recoveries and put his training to the test during this rescue. He quickly leapt into action and swam his way toward a man who was swept up in a rip current. Buriak was able to pull the man from the current and get him to shore, difficult in part because of the man’s exhaustion and the coral reefs that surround the island.

Buriak is survived by his wife, Megan, and young son, Caulder, as well as his parents, Jim and Carol Buriak, and his sister, Laura, and brother-in-law, Erik Zickefoose. A fundraiser has been created to support his wife and son during this tragic loss.

The Roanoke College community honors Jimmy Buriak for his service to our country.

For those wishing to offer their condolences to the Buriak family, please send to: Roanoke College Alumni Association, 221 College Lane, Salem, Virginia 24153, or email

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