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Families remember 7 Marines killed in helicopter crash

February 25, 2012 |  4:30 pm

Marines identify troops killed in chopper crash

Families and friends mourned the deaths of seven Marines killed in this week's midair collision in California.

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 they 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 apparent 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 Little and Everett, those killed in the apparent 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 also done on the ground.

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


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: The site where the helicopters fell to the ground. Credit: Fox 5 San Diego