A refueling plane with seven U.S. Marines on board crashed into a mountain while approaching a remote airstrip in Pakistan on Wednesday night. It was the deadliest incident yet for U.S. forces in the war against terrorism being fought in neighboring Afghanistan.
The KC-130 Hercules, a type of aircraft used to provide fuel for Marine air and ground units, slammed into the Siahan Range as it headed toward a military base 160 miles south of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
There was no word Wednesday night on the cause of the crash, which killed all seven Marines.
The Pentagon identified them as:
Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, 29, of Shasta, Calif. He was command pilot and joined the Marines in 1994.
Capt. Daniel G. McCollum 29, of Richland, S.C., the co-pilot. He had served since 1993.
Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, 35, of Montgomery Ala. He joined the Marine Corps in 1983 and was the plane’s flight engineer.
Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of Queens, N.Y. He was the loadmaster, serving since 1982.
Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, 21, of Wilbur, Wash. A flight mechanic, he joined the Marine Corps in 1999.
Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Ore., the flight navigator. He joined the Marine Corps in 1998.
Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Du Page, Ill. She was the radio operator and served since 1997.
The Marines were assigned to the Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, based in Miramar, Calif. They were based at Kandahar, 200 miles north of the crash site.
Hays was a 1998 Wilbur-Creston High School graduate, who played four years on the football team. In his senior year, he was a team captain and earned all-league recognition, said Wilbur-Creston football coach Bill Grigsby.
Hays knew in high school that he wanted a military career, said former teachers and coaches.
“Every time he’s been on leave he comes out to the school,” Grigsby said. “The kids look up to him a lot.”
Winters was the first woman among U.S. forces killed since the war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7.
Germosen’s mother-in-law, Bonnie Riley of Green River, Wyo., said he leaves a wife, Jennifer, and a 22-month-old daughter. “He was a wonderful, dedicated Marine and father and husband,” she said. “He loved his job. He loved what he was doing. And he’ll be greatly missed.”
Bertrand’s family learned of his death when two Marine officers came to their home in Coos Bay Wednesday afternoon, said his older sister, Rebecca Peters.
The last time Peters spoke with Bertrand was the night before he shipped out in late September.
“He was excited. He was in a hurry because they didn’t give him much time to pack up all of his stuff,” Peters said.
“It really hasn’t sunk in, but we have the reassurance that he was doing what he was supposed to, what he loved to do.”
Bertrand’s sister said he called his family a couple of days after Christmas.
“He couldn’t say much, but he said that when he got home he’d have stories that we wouldn’t believe,” Peters said.
Bertrand could have come back to the states earlier this month, but elected to stay another month, according to his sister. “He said that he didn’t want to sit on the sidelines. He’d rather be there than here,” Peters said.
“Our thoughts are with the families that have been playing the waiting game of knowing a C-130 went down and not knowing if their loved one was on it,” said Maj. T.V. Johnson, spokesman at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar.
“I’m sure no one woke up this morning thinking this will be my last day on Earth. But I’m sure we all woke up thinking I’m going to do my best job for my country because my country needs me,” Johnson said late Wednesday night.
Word of the crash came hours after American warplanes - for the fifth time in a week - struck the former Zawar Kili terrorist camp near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. Two F-16 Fighting Falcons and one F-18 Hornet hit the camp, at which dispersed al Qaeda fighters have been reported trying to regroup.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a brief hallway interview at the Pentagon, said that an investigative team was headed to the crash site.
“Isn’t it a shame?” he said. “It just breaks your heart.”
Rumsfeld said he had received contradictory reports on the crash and would wait for definitive word before saying anything specific about it.
Asked if the plane could have been hit by hostile fire, he said: “I have seen so many eyewitness reports that are wrong. As to what happened to an aircraft in flight - whether it hit the ground, whether something hit it, or whatever happened - I am going to wait for the investigation.”