TREMONT — Daniel Baker, a Marine from Tremont who is believed to have died in a plane crash last week off the coast of Japan, could have done many things with his life, his family said Tuesday, but he chose to "join the ranks of some of the toughest, most committed men and women in the world."
“Daniel was not perfect," the family said in a statement. "He had his flaws, but we are so proud of the fantastic young man he grew to be."
Baker, 21, was aboard a KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft that collided Thursday with an F/A-18 Hornet during regular training. Both aircraft crashed into the sea south of Japan's Shikoku Island.
Two crew members in the F/A-18 were recovered after the crash, but one died. The Marines said the survivor was in stable condition when rescued.
Baker was among the five missing Marines who were aboard the tanker.
The search, joined by Japanese and Australian forces, was halted Tuesday, and the cause of the crash remains under investigation, the Marines said in a statement.
The U.S. military has not yet publicly identified the five, citing notification of next of kin.
The 2015 Tremont High School graduate was remembered Tuesday as a good student and a generous man who had a strong faith and a willingness to help anyone at any time.
“He was a great young man, very generous, very gentle and very kind,” said Matt Miller, a family friend and spokesman. “He was always there whenever you needed something."
Describing Baker as an avid outdoorsman whom everyone knew, Miller added: “He always had a big grin on his face. We are going to miss his smile. He was kind of quiet, but he also had a constant presence.”
In a statement issued through Miller, the family recalled how Baker was a nearly straight-A student who easily could have followed his friends into college. They thought he could study engineering, but he had different plans.
"He wanted to see the world and felt called to serve his country in the Marines," the family said. "He wanted to do his part and join the ranks of some of the toughest, most committed men and women in the world, and we are so proud of him for it, even though we feared a week like this one might come.”
Tremont school district officials said Baker was active in the school's robotics program and an Illinois State Scholar.
"He was one of the best and brightest our community produced and his faith continues to strengthen all those who knew him," the district said in a statement. "The Baker family is special to to our school community and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time."
Baker also was a former emergency medical technician with Tremont Rescue 702.
"Our hearts are heavy as we have learned of the passing of Daniel Baker," the organization said in a social media post, noting that Baker's "father and grandfather are also members of the Tremont Rescue family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.”
According to Miller, Baker "never sought out public admiration or glory for himself. I’m pretty sure he would be embarrassed by all the attention that will come to him now.”
The crew of the refueling aircraft was based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima as part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, known as the "Sumos."
"All of us in the Sumo family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the conclusion of search and rescue operation," the squadron's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, said in a statement. "We know this difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted in the vigorous search for the Marines."
"Our thoughts are heavy and our prayers are with all family and friends of all five aircrew," Maury said.
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Dunlap Republican, said he spoke with Baker's family on Tuesday and "was able to share my condolences with them directly and learn even more about the incredible young man and leader that they have raised."