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Father: Son killed in crash was due home soon

Most who died in crash were based in Hawaii

CH-53E Super Stallion
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A Marine helicopter crashes in western Iraq.

Iraq is preparing until the last minute for Sunday's voting.

Hostage's family can only wait and hope that he is safe.
Deadliest of Iraq war
  • January 26, 2005: 31 killed
  • November 15, 2003: 17 killed
  • November 2, 2003: 16
  • March 21, 2003: 12 killed (8 Britons, 4 Americans)
  • January 8, 2004: 9 killed
  • November 7, 2003: 6 killed
  • April 2, 2003: 6 killed

    Source: U.S. military
    • Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
    • Interactive: Sectarian divide

    CAMP PENDLETON, California (CNN) -- The father of a U.S. Marine killed in a helicopter crash Wednesday in Iraq said his son was due to come home in March. Twenty-nine other Marines and a Navy corpsman also died in the crash.

    Lance Cpl. Tony Hernandez was based at Camp Pendleton, his parents told CNN affiliate KABB-TV in San Antonio, Texas. They said they didn't know his unit.

    The CH-53E Super Stallion crashed at about 1:20 a.m. Baghdad time near Rutba in western Iraq. The Marine transport chopper, operated by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, was carrying personnel from the 1st Marine Division. The wing and division are units of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

    Leroy Hernandez said in a television interview that his daughter called him at work early Wednesday and told him his 22-year-old son had died. Two Marines were at the house, she told her father, who lives at Canyon Lake.

    "By the time I got home, my wife and kids were here," and they were trying to contact his son's wife in California, he said.

    And Tony Hernandez's mother, Jan Trout, who is divorced from Leroy Hernandez, called her son's death "every mother's nightmare."

    But she said she recognized that when someone goes to war, there is always the chance they won't return.

    Leroy Hernandez said his son initially was not eligible to join the Marines, because, at more than 200 pounds, he was overweight. But he lost the weight by exercising and became a Marine, serving in San Diego until he went to Iraq.

    Leroy Hernandez said he supports the U.S. mission in Iraq, and his son believed in what he was doing.

    "The price of democracy is very expensive. These kids are doing what they think is right," he added.

    Most Marine crash casualties base in Hawaii

    Early news of the crash quickly caused a somber mood at Camp Pendleton, which is the base for about 30,000 Marines serving in Iraq.

    "It was like someone punching you in the heart," Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson said after learning the news.

    But it was a Marine base in Hawaii that suffered the greatest loss.

    Twenty-seven of the 30 Marines killed in the helicopter crash were based in Kaneohe, Hawaii, Sen. Daniel Akaka said.

    "I am deeply saddened by this event. I am stunned that so many lives were lost in a single incident," Akaka said in a written statement. "My heartfelt thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies go to the families of each Marine."

    Marine officials were notifying family members and planned to officially release the names of the deceased within 24 hours

    In other incidents Wednesday, the Marine Corps said four Marines from the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, based in Baltimore, Maryland, were killed during combat operations in Iraq's Anbar province.

    In addition, two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate insurgent incidents outside Baghdad, bringing the U.S. military death toll to 37 and making Wednesday the deadliest day for American forces in the Iraq war to date.

    Under investigation

    The cause of the chopper crash is under investigation, but it appears to be weather-related, said Gen. John Abizaid, who's in charge of American military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the region as chief of U.S. Central Command.

    "The weather was bad. We don't know of any enemy action. The investigation continues," Abizaid said.

    U.S. military personnel at the crash site reported heavy fog in the area.

    There is no evidence of any survivors, Abizaid said, adding that the helicopter was on a routine mission in support of Sunday's elections.

    "It's a dangerous environment that we operate in in Iraq. We all understand that, and again our condolences [go] to the families," he said.

    With the latest fatalities, 1,418 U.S. troops have died in the war.

    The previous most-deadly day for U.S. troops was March 23, 2003 -- four days after the start of the war. Thirty-one U.S. forces died then, including 29 in combat.

    At a news conference Wednesday, President Bush said, "Any time we lose life it is a sad moment."

    CNN's Miguel Marquez and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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