Just the day before he disappeared, Daniel Baker, a young Marine corporal stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, made a batch of heartfelt phone calls back home to his family and friends in central Illinois.
Baker was among five people American, Australian and Japanese forces were searching for in the sea south of Japan's Shikoku island after a collision Thursday of two planes, one an aerial fuel tanker and the other a combat jet. The U.S. Marine Corps announced Tuesday that additional search and rescue missions would be suspended and declared all five crew members dead.
Baker, 21, had made a series of calls the day before the crash between a KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft and an F/A-18 Hornet, said lifelong family friend Matt Miller.
"Most of the conversations were long and detailed. The family and friends consider this communication from Daniel, a day before the accident, a gift from God. Daniel was quiet and, while he called home occasionally, this was a more in-depth communication than the normal phone call," Miller said in an email.
The following day, a routine training exercise involving the tanker and the combat jet went awry when the two collided, according to a statement from Marine Capt. Christopher Harrison. Five people aboard the fuel plane and two people in the jet disappeared. Rescuers found two people from the F/A-18, one who was recovering and the pilot, who later died and was identified as Capt. Jahmar Resilard, 28, of Miramar, Fla.
Family members identified Baker and the Marines in a Tuesday statement that said the families of the dead had been notified. In an update Wednesday morning, military officials confirmed Baker was among those declared dead.
Family members of Baker, a 2015 Tremont High School graduate, asked that Miller speak on their behalf.
"Daniel had a strong faith in God, and his family is being supported and encouraged by that same shared faith. Please pray for all of the service members and families involved in this accident," the Bakers, who still live in Tremont, about 15 southeast of Peoria, wrote in a statement.
Miller said he knew the Bakers from their nondenominational church, Northfield Christian Fellowship, before Daniel was even born.
"He was a believer; he was a Christian," Miller said. "He was a young man of deep faith, as are his parents."
His family compiled some of the messages they've gotten from friends and had Miller pass them along, but the friends' names were not listed. One of them shared a letter written to Baker -- who joined the military straight out of high school -- before Baker left for basic training, thanking him for teaching him so many things about life.
"You've taught me to live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment I have with people around me. You've taught me to not worry, but do the best I can and take on life as it comes. You've taught me to be sporadic and do things that don't always seem to be (as I'd put it) the most practical or the most financial, but invest in people and be adventurous," the friend wrote.
Another friend summed up Baker's traits: "kind, compassionate, adventuresome, reliable, sincere."
Miller said Baker served his church's youth group and adored children; a friend added that Baker was always generous enough to host youth group parties or movie nights.
Baker served two years in the Marine Corps, according to Harrison. His decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Harrison wrote in a statement Wednesday.
In their written statement, the Bakers mentioned the upcoming holidays. Baker had been home most recently this year to attend the wedding of a friend, Miller said, and that was the last time he visited his family.
Baker is survived by his parents, according to the Wednesday statement.
"Please also pray for Daniel, and us, as we navigate this extremely difficult trial during this holiday season," his family wrote.
This article is written by Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.