Update, May 17
Two U.S. Marines with ties to the Midlands were among the six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers killed last week in a helicopter crash in Nepal. On Sunday, the Defense Department identified all the Marines killed in Tuesday's crash.
One of the pilots, Capt. Dustin Lukasiewicz, grew up in Wilcox, Nebraska, before joining the Marines.
Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug was working as a videographer onboard the flight delivering supplies to earthquake victims. Hug is an Arizona native, but several of his family members live in Council Bluffs and Omaha.
Nepalese soldiers recovered the bodies of the eight people who died in the helicopter crash on Saturday.
- The Associated Press
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U.S. and Nepalese recovery teams planned to return early Saturday to the crash site of a Marine Corps relief helicopter in Nepal. But they don’t expect to find any survivors among an eight-man crew that included two Marines with close ties to the Midlands.
“It was a very severe crash,” said Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the Marine-led joint task force in Kathmandu, Nepal. “Based on what we saw in the condition of the aircraft, we believe there were no survivors.”
The wreckage was discovered Friday in rugged mountains east of the capital. The UH-1Y Huey crashed while delivering humanitarian aid to villages hit by two deadly earthquakes. It was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers.
Family members say Capt. Dustin Lukasiewicz, 28, of Wilcox, Nebraska, was one of the Huey’s pilots. Also among the Marines on board was Lance Cpl. Jacob Hug, 22, of Phoenix, who has extended family in his father’s hometown of Council Bluffs. Lukasiewicz is a member of Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 from Camp Pendleton, California. Hug is a Marine Corps videographer based in Okinawa, Japan.
Lukasiewicz’s family learned early Friday that the wreckage had been found, with no sign of survivors.
“They’re hoping for the best, and preparing for what comes,” said the Rev. Ray Kosmicki, pastor of Catholic churches in St. Paul, Alda and Farwell that are attended by many members of the Lukasiewicz family.
He said hundreds of people in the three parishes have joined a prayer chain of texts and phone calls in support of the family.
“The worst happening seems to bring out the best in the people of Farwell,” Kosmicki said. “They really pull together and trust in the Lord.”
He has been in close touch with Dustin’s father, Keith Lukasiewicz, who flew to California earlier this week to wait for word with his daughter-in-law, Ashley. She is eight months pregnant with the couple’s second child. They also have a young daughter.
“His strongest message was that he was very thankful for the extensive prayer support,” Kosmicki said. He said Keith Lukasiewicz also praised the Marines for their “clear and constant communication” about the search operation.
Dustin “Dusty” Lukasiewicz grew up in Wilcox. Friends from his hometown recalled that he played center on Wilcox-Hildreth High School’s eight-man football team.
He loved to drive old pickups and hunt with his buddies.
“He just enjoyed doing about everything,” said his K-12 classmate Scott Potter, now of Brush, Colorado, who played offensive guard on that team.
Potter told the Kearney Hub that Lukasiewicz was a leader on the line not only because the center called the audibles, but also because he rallied the team to play hard.
Besides being a decent athlete, friends remembered Lukasiewicz as a good student and citizen.
“He was a real intelligent kid, probably a lot more hard-working than I was,” recalled Cody Robinson of Wilcox, who said he first met Dustin in kindergarten.
In an interview with The World-Herald, Robinson said his friend talked about the Marines as early as elementary school.
“He was always planning to go into the military,” Robinson said. “He was really passionate about it. He was a proud American and wanted to serve his country.”
Lukasiewicz and another member of the Wilcox-Hildreth class of 2003, Levi Adam, were roommates while completing ROTC at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and both joined the Marines. Adam is now an intelligence officer, stationed in North Carolina.
“You just knew that whatever they chose to do, they weren’t going to fail,” Potter said.
Jacob Hug was an Arizona boy with Iowa roots — his father, Jim, is a native of Council Bluffs.
Jacob Hug graduated from Barry Goldwater High School in Phoenix, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper.
The newspaper said Hug had been in Nepal for about a week before the helicopter disappeared. He was filming relief operations for the Defense Department.
Jacob Hug spent his 22nd birthday in Nepal May 6, the newspaper reported, and called his mother, Andrea, in Phoenix on Mother’s Day.
“I don’t know how he even found access, because he had been sleeping underneath a tarp on the ground for a week,” Jim Hug told the Arizona Republic. “He said he was tired and ready to go back (home).”
His father described Jacob as a bookworm who read everything from Harry Potter to classics. And he loved being in the Marines.
“Jacob is a great kid,” Jim Hug said. “All he wanted to do was go into the military.”
Although the Pentagon hasn’t released the names of the crew members, Ron Norgren, the father of another Marine, told the Kansas City Star and the Washington Post that his son was on board.
Capt. Chris Norgren, 31, held degrees in aerospace engineering and mathematics from Missouri University of Science and Technology, where he also played football. A licensed pilot and aviation enthusiast, Norgren joined the Marines in 2009 after being laid off from a job at Cessna Aircraft and did an eight-month tour in Afghanistan, his father said.
Ron Norgren said the family last heard from their son, a native of Wichita, Kansas, on Mother’s Day, when Chris Norgren sent flowers to his mother, Theresa.
“We didn’t actually talk; we texted,” Norgren said. “I thanked him for remembering his mom, and I told him I was very proud of him for doing what he was doing, helping these people out and remembering Mother’s Day. He texted me back, ‘Thanks Pop.’ And that’s all I heard.”
The wreckage was found by a Nepalese search team near Charikot, the military said in a statement.
A five-member U.S. unit reached the Himalayan site a few hours after the debris was spotted by the crew of a Nepali army helicopter. Locals had pointed the Nepali crew to the wreck site.
Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, a spokesman for Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs, said that six bodies had been found so far at the crash site.
At a press conference in Nepal, Wissler, the Marine general, said that the cause of the accident was not known and that there was no initial sign of survivors.
“They were courageous, they were selfless individuals committed to the relief mission,” he said.
Wissler said extreme weather and difficult terrain hampered his team’s efforts to work at the crash site.
No distress call was made before the Huey went missing while taking supplies to stranded villagers, but there may have been a transmission about a fuel problem, officials said.
President Barack Obama expressed condolences to the families of those lost during remarks Friday morning at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service outside the U.S. Capitol.
He said the Marines “represent a truth that guides our work around the world: When our friends are in need, America helps.”
The helicopter crash was a reminder of the risks that rescue and aid workers will face in the days ahead as they help Nepal recover from the twin blows of the April 25 earthquake that left more than 8,000 dead and Tuesday’s 7.3-magnitude aftershock that killed at least 100 people in Nepal, northern India and Tibet.
The region is likely to continue to have aftershocks, experts say, and the threat of landslides and avalanches continues, especially as the rainy season sets in. Wind, rain and plunging temperatures at the crash site, at an altitude of about 11,000 feet, forced Wissler to postpone the recovery operation until Saturday.
“This tragedy is a reminder of the vital but dangerous role that American service members play in delivering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a statement Friday. But, he added, “our mission continues in Nepal.”
World-Herald staff writer Maggie O’Brien contributed to this report, which also includes information from wire services.
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