Military officials have identified the five KC-130J crew members killed in a midair collision off the coast of Japan on Dec. 6.
Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, Staff Sgt. Maximo Alexander Flores, 27, Cpl. William C. Ross, 21, and Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, were killed when their KC-130J collided with an F/A-18.
The two pilots, Herrmann and Brophy, and aircrew members Flores, Ross, and Baker were assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, out of the Marine air station in Iwakuni, Japan.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the names of our fallen Marines,” Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, commander of of VMGR-152, said in a command release. “They were exceptional aviators, Marines, and friends whom will be eternally missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”
Three of the deceased Marines were married and two had children.
A massive multiday search and rescue operation undertaken by Japanese, U.S. and Australian forces was unable to find the missing Marines, despite combing nearly 35,000 square nautical miles of ocean.
Commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force Lt. Gen. Eric Smith ended the rescue operation Tuesday and declared the missing KC-130J Marines as deceased.
“Every possible effort was made to recover our crew and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by US, Japanese, and Australian forces during the search,” Smith said in a press release.
Among the dead was 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Daniel Baker, who had graduated from Tremont High School in Illinois in 2015.
Baker was able to make a phone call home to his family just before the kicking off the fateful mission, the Journal Star reported.
Family and relatives characterized the young Marine aircrewman as reliable, loving and compassionate.
A retired Navy pilot and friend of the family described Baker as “best of the best” in a statement to Marine Corps Times.
“He was one of the best friends that I will ever have and he will be dearly missed by anybody that he met,” another friend of Baker’s family said.
Ross was starting out his career in the Corps, and had just two years of service under his belt. A native of Hendersonville, Tennessee, Ross was 21-years-old.
Flores, an aircrewman onboard the Hercules aircraft, followed in his father’s footsteps — a former Marine grunt in 1979 — by joining the Corps in 2010.
“I preached the Corps to him,” Maximo Flores, the father of Staff Sgt. Flores, told Marine Corps Times.
“My legacy was fulfilled as soon as I was at the tarmac at MCRD California [Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego], hearing his company gunnery sergeant yell cadence out; I just started crying,” his father said.
Flores described his son as very loyal and respectful who was looked up to by other Marines.
“He made rank so darn fast,” his father said. “He’s the Marine I wished I would have been.”
“I just want all the prayers to go out to his wife Rebecca Flores,” Flores said.
Flores was 27-years-old at the time of the crash and had served in the Corps for nine years.
Herrmann served 16 years in the Corps and was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He is a recipient of the Air Medal with twenty-four Strike Flight Awards. He is survived wife and three daughters.
Brophy was married with a wife, daughter and son. He served 12 years in the Corps and also was the recipient of the Air Medal with two Strike Flight Awards.
“Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment. We remain, Semper Fidelis,” Smith said in command release.
The flight data and cockpit voice recorder from the crashed KC-130 have still yet to be recovered.
The two pilots in the F/A-18 Hornet were found on the first day of rescue operations, but only one survived.
Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, a Hornet pilot with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 was declared deceased by Marine officials on Friday.
The lone survivor in the tragic midair collision has since been released from the hospital but Corps officials have not released the Marine’s name.
The accident launched a massive multination search and rescue operations involving naval and air assets from Japanese forces, U.S. Navy 7th Fleet, and a submarine hunting P-8 Poseidon aircraft with the Royal Australian Air Force.
Air Force special operators and pararescuemen with 320th Special Tactics Squadron and assets including CV-22 tiltrotors MC-130s also aided in the search.
The incident is currently under investigation.
“The Marine Corps is focused on taking care of our Marines and their families,” the Corps said.