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Jerry Brown pays tribute to 7 Marines killed in midair collision

Marines identify troops killed in chopper crash

Gov. Jerry Brown paid tribute to the seven Marines killed in last week's midair collision in California and ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff.

Brown said in a statement Saturday:

On behalf of all Californians, Governor Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown honor six Marines who bravely gave their lives in service to our state and nation. The Governor and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to their families and friends at this difficult time.

In memorial, Governor Brown ordered that flags be flown at half-staff over the State Capitol today. The Marines' families will receive a letter of condolence from the Governor.

Meanwhile, more is being learned about the Marines who died. Family members said Sgt. Justin Everett, 33, of Clovis, Calif., a crew chief aboard the Huey helicopter that apparently collided with another chopper Wednesday, left his job as a youth pastor to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I saw him Sunday night. We came by to visit and he had walked me to my car and hugged me and kissed and told me, 'Mama bear, I love you,' and I told him, 'Baby bear, I love you too,'" mother Patsy Everett told the Associated Press. "He was a good boy, never been any problem to us."

The wife of Lance Cpl. Corey Little, 25, of Marietta, Ga., a crew chief aboard the Huey, said Little "absolutely loved his job. He loved everything about helicopters. It was his passion."

In an interview with Fox 5 San Diego, Nicole Little said she and her husband learned on New Year's that they were expecting a child. She is trying to process what happened. "You think it's never going to be you," she told the station. "You hear it on the news and you shed a tear for someone. You just never honestly think it would be you."

Four officers and three enlisted Marines were killed Wednesday night in the collision of two attack helicopters during a training mission in a remote area of Imperial County, the Marine Corps announced Friday.

Six of the seven were with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Camp Pendleton.

The seventh was assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.

"Every single one of these Marines impacted our squadron in their own special way, and the entire Marine Corps aviation community is feeling their tragic loss," said Lt. Col. Stephen Lightfoot, commanding officer of Squadron 469.

Besides Everett and Little, those killed in the collision of an AH-1W Super Cobra and the UH-1Y Super Huey were:

-- Maj. Thomas Budrejko, 37, of Montville, Conn., a Cobra pilot and executive officer of Squadron 469. He was deployed three times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

-- Capt. Michael Quin, 28, of Purcellville, Va., a Huey pilot.

-- Capt. Benjamin Cerniglia, 31, of Montgomery, Ala., a Cobra pilot.

-- Lance Cpl. Nickoulas Elliott, 21, of Spokane, Wash., a crew chief aboard the Huey.

-- Capt. Nathan W. Anderson, 32, of Amarillo, Texas, a Huey pilot. He had deployed three times to Iraq and was the one based in Arizona.

The collision occurred about 8 p.m. Wednesday during a routine training mission called Scorpion Fire. The training, part of preparations for deployment to Afghanistan, was within an hour of suspending for the night.

The helicopters collided about 65 miles northwest of Yuma, in the Chocolate Mountains, a few miles from the Yuma Training Range complex, on the California side of the state's border with Arizona.

The military has expansive areas for training in the California and Arizona deserts, which are heavily used for helicopter training because the region mirrors the rough, irregular terrain and the hot, dusty weather that crews encounter in Afghanistan.

Attack helicopter crews train in firing weapons and working in tandem, often at low altitudes. Refueling training is done on the ground.

The crash is under investigation, a process that could take months. Training and safety procedures are also being reviewed.

ALSO:

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

 
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