PEORIA — Be it divine providence or a young man trying to stay awake before a long training mission, Daniel Baker picked up the phone and called his family the night before his aerial tanker collided with a Marine Corps fighter jet.
Baker, 21, and four other Marines were to go on an early morning training mission Dec. 5 off the coast of Japan. But just before the mission, Baker called home and spoke to his family, for what turned out to be the last time.
"Daniel had to stay up all evening and part of the night before this last mission," said Matt Miller, an elder at the family's church, Northfield Christian Fellowship, and a spokesman for the family. "I believe it was scheduled for the middle of the night in Japan's time zone. He phoned family and a few friends while he was waiting for the mission and talked to his family for more than an hour.
"The family sees those phone calls as a gift from God, a tremendous comfort during an extreme trial. While Daniel called home occasionally, these were extended calls and they had plenty of time to chat about life and everyday things," Miller said.
The 2015 Tremont High School graduate was one of five Marines who went missing early that morning after the KC-130J Hercules tanker they were aboard collided a F/A-18 Super Hornet during training off Japan. The two Hornet crew members later were recovered, but one, Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, 28, of Miramar, Fla., died.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith, commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, announced, "After an update from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, and a review of all available information, I have made the determination to end the search and rescue operations for the crew of our KC-130J aircraft, which was involved in a mishap off the southern coast of Japan, and to declare that these Marine warriors are deceased."
The tanker's flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been located, Smith said.
The search covered more than 35,000 square nautical miles and involved approximately 900 hours of searching by Japanese, Australian, and U.S. aircraft, ships, and other assets, according to the Facebook post.
Baker, who was a crewmaster on the plane, was described by his friends as a young man who had "an unparalleled quest for adventure," something that likely played a large role in why Baker chose to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Miller said the family is in the midst of planning a memorial service for Baker.