Three service members with ties to Southern California were among 16 killed Monday when a military transport aircraft crashed in Mississippi.
The KC-130T, used to refuel jets in mid-air and on the ground, crashed in a field Monday afternoon, leaving all 16 service members on board dead. It was being flown by Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 (VMGR-452) based in Newburgh, New York, military officials said.
The 15 Marines and a Navy sailor came from all over the country. Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Nine were based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron.
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The deceased were officially identified Friday by the Marine Corps Reserve. They include Capt. Sean E. Elliott, of Orange; Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cox, of Ventura; and Sgt. Chad E. Jenson, of Los Angeles.
About Capt. Elliott
Capt. Sean Elliott, one of the plane's pilots, had a longtime love affair with the C-130. His father said his son used to take a model C-130 loaded with toy soldiers to bed when he was 4 years old.
"He slept with it like you would a teddy bear," John Elliott to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "A big plane, in the bed. A silly plastic thing, with the toy soldiers inside. It went to bed with him every night for quite a long time."
His mother, Cynthia Elliott, said her son was "enamored" with aircraft and the military at least since attending a childhood air show.
A prep standout in tennis, the 6-foot 2-inch Elliott was renowned for a booming serve. His younger brother Erik went pro, but Sean Elliott went to officers' school, graduating from the University of California, Davis.
"He was always looking out for others, starting with me but then continuing to his fraternity brothers and his Marines," Erik Elliott said.
Stationed at Stewart, Elliott got his Marine Corps call sign "Puffin" because he refused to hunt the nesting and defenseless birds during a stopover in Iceland, his father said.
About Staff Sgt. Cox
Staff Sgt. Robert Cox, a critical skills operator from Ventura County, California, was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the Marines said in a news release Friday. Cox joined the Marines in 2007 and had served four tours of duty overseas.
About Sgt. Jenson
Jenson was remembered by high school teammates as the selfless center of a championship football team. He was a member of the Marine's elite 2nd Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune.
Kyle Demarco, the quarterback for the Mira Costa High School championship team, told the Daily Breeze that he broke into tears when he learned Jenson had died.
"If I have a kid one day, I want him to have the type of character that Chad did," Demarco said.
Chuck Arrasmith, Jenson's offensive line coach in high school, remained close to him after he signed up for the Marines in 2010. He said Jenson didn't "see a ceiling in his life. He just keeps breaking through and achieving more."
Arrasmith said it was that relentless drive that powered his preparation to join the special forces. On leave, Jenson filled a backpack with bricks, strapped it to his back and ran up and down the stairs at school. Coaches found him in the school's pool, trying to turn himself into a swimmer.
"He knew going into that that this was going to be an extreme challenge," Arrasmith said.
"On behalf of the Marine Corps Reserve, I extend my deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those who perished in last night's tragedy," Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian said in a statement issued Tuesday. "The Marines and Sailor involved in this incident were among our finest. They dedicated their lives to our core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. They will never be forgotten."
Several bouquets were left Tuesday at the main gate of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, where the plane was based. The plane was bound for Naval Air Facility El Centro in Southern California's Imperial County. From there, the service members were scheduled for a ground transport to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
The service members' remains were delivered Thursday to Jackson Medgar Evers International Airport by a procession of hearses. They were to be loaded onto a C-5 for transport.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.