Marines killed in Nepal crash were devoted to job, their families say

Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug, a combat videographer from Arizona, considered being in the Marine Corps as "starting his life," his mother told reporters in Phoenix.

The last words that Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV's parents sent their 29-year-old son, a crew chief from Seminole, Fla., were, "Love you, be safe."

And the final communication from Nepal that Capt. Christopher L. Norgren, 31, a pilot from Sedgwick, Kan., sent his parents was on Mother's Day. He texted a message of love and made sure flowers were sent to his mother.

His mother, Terri, texted back, "I love you Chris. I'm proud of you."

The six Marines who died in the crash of their UH-1Y Huey helicopter during a disaster relief mission in Nepal were from different parts of the United States: Nebraska, Southern California, Illinois, in addition to Kansas, Florida and Arizona.

But their families said they shared a devotion to their job and a sense that their mission, to bring supplies to desperate villagers in an earthquake-stricken country, was important.

"We stand with Nepal," Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, 29, a native of Nebraska and one of the pilots, said on a Marine Corps video just days before the ill-fated flight. He left behind a pregnant wife in Fallbrook, Calif.

The six were assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 from Camp Pendleton. The squadron was in the Philippines on a training mission when the Marines and their aircraft were redirected to the relief mission in Nepal after the magnitude 7.8 quake on April 25, which killed more than 8,300 people.

They were flying a relief mission Tuesday after a magnitude 7.3 aftershock when their aircraft went down.

The other Marines on board were identified Sunday as Sgt. Eric M. Seaman, 30, a crew chief from southern Riverside County, and Cpl. Sara A. Medina, a combat photographer from Illinois, who was assigned to Marine forces in Okinawa, Japan.

In addition, two Nepalese soldiers rounded out the crew of eight and also died in the crash. Nepal's army identified them as Tapendra Rawal and Basanta Titara, the Associated Press reported.

In the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Wildomar in Riverside County, veteran Michael Sheehan, interviewed by a Los Angeles television station, said of Seaman, "He volunteered with the service, so that makes him a hero automatically."

In Florida, Johnson's father recalled his son's deployment to Afghanistan.

"We were terrified the entire eight months he was in Afghanistan," Ward Johnson told a television reporter. "But when he said he had to go to Nepal to deliver food, we were just proud of him."

During the three-day search for the wreckage, Andrea Hug told a Phoenix television station that her son "loves his job, he loves it."

Jacob Hug's father, Jim, said, "God's not done with him. God has a plan for him; his work is not done."

In a video days before the crash, Ward Johnson IV talked proudly of the mission to bring food, water, shelter and medical supplies to villagers in Nepal's rugged, heavily forested area, one of the regions hit hardest by the two earthquakes.

"We've delivered over 68,000 pounds of needed supplies to the outer villages and we also plan to deliver another 140,000 pounds before we leave," he said.

The Huey crashed about eight miles north of the town of Charikot. As the names of the six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers killed in the crash were announced, a Marine general said the tragedy would not halt the relief effort.

"We will continue to stand with Nepal as long as our friends need our help," Lt. Gen. John Wissler said.

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