Stanford Law School alumnus Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis died when his U.S. military helicopter crashed. (Image credit: Joe Neto)

Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, a 2017 graduate of Stanford Law School, died March 15 near the border of western Iraq and Syria when his U.S. military helicopter crashed during a troop transport.

Zanetis, 37, was an active Air National Guard member and helicopter pilot, as well as a fire marshal for the New York City Fire Department. After graduating from Stanford with pro bono distinction last year, he was working as an associate in the litigation department of New York City law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. Zanetis was a member of the Bar of New York and a member of the National LGBT Law Association, which elected him Student of the Year in 2017.

“Tripp Zanetis was a beloved student, friend and community member here at Stanford Law School and will be deeply missed. We are heartbroken at his loss,” said Dean M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law.

“Our thoughts are with his family and with all who knew and loved him. He was one of the most extraordinary students I had the privilege of knowing and he will long be remembered in the institution.”

In honor of Zanetis, flags across the campus were lowered to half-staff. In addition, the students, faculty and staff at Stanford Law School are planning an event on campus to remember and celebrate Zanetis during the 2018 spring quarter.

“With hardwiring for public service, the sweet energy of a puppy and a brilliant, curious mind, Tripp was making a life that would make a difference,” Law Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson wrote in a moving tribute to Zanetis. “He was building toward elected office, and he would have been a leader for our times. Tripp Zanetis was gold. We are richer for his life, and we owe something back for it.”

Zanetis graduated cum laude in 2003 from New York University with a BA in politics. While a sophomore at NYU, Zanetis lived a few blocks away from the World Trade Center during the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. He volunteered with the Fire Department of New York on 9/11 for 14 hours. After graduating, Zanetis joined the FDNY. During his tenure with the FDNY, Zanetis was promoted to fire marshal and was recognized for his bravery as part of an investigative unit.

Tripp Zanetis speaking at the World War II Memorial Rededication on May 26, 2016. (Image credit: Courtesy Stanford Law School)

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified in 2008, Zanetis joined the Air National Guard, the Air Force component of the National Guard. He trained to fly the Air Force’s combat search and rescue helicopter, the HH-60G PaveHawk, and with the 106th Rescue Wing, was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Zanetis committed to a 10-year service duty with the Air National Guard and, before this most recent deployment, had already received four Air Medals given for combat missions. As a National Guard pilot, he also provided civilian search and rescue services to the northeastern seaboard.

Zanetis’ father, John Zanetis, told the New York Times that his son was “a pilot, flies a rescue helicopter, is a cross-fit trainer and he was in excellent health. He was unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

U.S. military officials said the cause of helicopter crash, which killed all seven service members on board near the city of Qaim, Iraq, is under investigation but some reports have indicated it hit power lines. Four of the crew members, including Zanetis, were from the New York National Guard 106th Rescue Wing based in Long Island. It was Zanetis’ third tour of duty in Iraq. He had left the second week of January, nearing the end of his 10-year commitment to the Air National Guard, his father said.

In 2014, while still on active duty and on leave from the FDNY, Zanetis entered Stanford Law School. Zanetis joined the Stanford Journal of International Law and the International Refugee Assistance Project, where he was able to help secure a Special Immigrant Visa for an Afghan interpreter who worked with a classmate.

During his last year at Stanford Law, Zanetis served as the co-president of the Stanford Law Veteran’s Organization, co-produced the Stanford Law School musical, facilitated Stanford Law’s inaugural OutLaw Conference on LGBTQ Advocacy in the Workplace and won the National LGBT Bar Association’s Student Leadership Award.

Zanetis also secured an externship with the Office of Legal Affairs at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, where he spent six months working on diverse legal issues.

Also while at Stanford Law, Zanetis spearheaded the effort to rededicate the Stanford Law School’s World War II Memorial plaque and had it installed on the school grounds where it could be viewed by the public for the first time in several decades.

Zanetis’ name will be engraved in the lobby of Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium, where the walls are dedicated to members of the Stanford community who have died in all wars, most recently a section for those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Zanetis, a native of Indiana, is survived by his parents, John and Sarah Zanetis, and sisters, Angela and Britt.  Memories and tributes can be sent to the following email: