CAMBRIDGE — With tears in their eyes, and hands raised in salute, Massachusetts State Police troopers gathered Sunday morning to commemorate a helicopter crash that killed two of their own and two engineers 20 years ago.
About 50 troopers, family members, and friends came together to reflect at the site of the crash beside the Harvard Yacht Club and Sailing Center on Memorial Drive.
“Time has a way of slipping away,” Lieutenant Timothy Riley, executive officer of the airwing unit, said in his opening remarks. “Let’s make sure their memory doesn’t slip away from us.”
On Feb. 22, 1995 Massachusetts State Police helicopter N820SP carrying two troopers and two AT&T engineers crashed into the yacht club building. Sergeant James Mattaliano and Sergeant Paul Perry of State Police, and Arthur Howell and Michael McCarthy, from AT&T were killed in the crash, which was later attributed to contaminated fuel, State Police said.
The troopers were taking the two engineers from a helipad on Nashua Street to the State Police airwing headquarters in Norwood to install a police telephone system when the helicopter crashed.
Carol Perry, Paul Perry’s widow, recalled what a difficult day it was, but said she was happy the Massachusetts State Police continue to honor her late husband.
“They have been a constant source of strength and support,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s hard to be here, but I want to focus on the positive and celebrate Paul’s life and memory.”
The gathering was quiet and reflective. After brief remarks from Riley, and an opening prayer from the Rev. Bill Hamilton, Massachusetts State Police chaplain, families of the deceased were presented with a purple and white floral memorial wreath.
JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF
State Police officers bowed their heads in prayer.
Family members huddled, holding each other for support and warmth. “Ode to Joy” performed on bagpipes cut through the cold morning air, bellowing down Memorial Drive.
The music stopped as three helicopters, each marked with initials of one of the men killed, flew over the frozen Charles River, circling the crowd. The flyover was arranged for 9:37 a.m., the time of the original accident.
A fourth helicopter, bearing Howell’s initials, was in repair and did not fly over the crowd.
Linda Price, Perry’s sister, said it felt eerie to stand in the spot of the crash. She said the event brought up a lot of emotions.
“He was such a kind, loving man,” she said. “He was the best brother.”
Former State Police Colonel Mark Delaney said he was humbled by Sunday’s event. Delaney was a Detective Lieutenant assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office at the time of the crash and led the investigation. The helicopter was only in flight for a few minutes before it plummeted into the yacht club roof.
The crash was caused by contaminated fuel, Delaney said.
“I knew the troopers personally,” he said. “They were great men who loved to fly. This was a tragedy.”
Since the crash, Delaney said the State Police airwing unit has improved “100 percent.” They now outsource all fuel, provide more intensive training, and perform more regular checks of their equipment.
“We learned from our mistakes,” he said. “Something like this will never happen again.”
The memorial event was originally scheduled for Sunday Feb. 22, but was delayed a week because of inclement weather.
JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF
Three Massachusetts State Police helicopters flew overhead.