Cecilia Lopez was happy to hear from her daughter, Marine Cpl. Sara A. Medina, on Mother’s Day. Medina, a combat photographer, was on an overseas mission but made time to call her mom.
It would be one of the last times Lopez spoke to her daughter. Medina, 23, was killed last week in a helicopter crash during a relief mission in earthquake-hit Nepal. She was assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 from Camp Pendleton, California.
“My daughter was always happy and smiling,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “Her dream was to be in the Marines. She liked to help others.”
Medina and five other Marines were in the Philippines on a training mission when their aircraft was redirected to the relief mission in Nepal last week.
The helicopter went missing Tuesday while delivering rice and tarps in Charikot, the area worst hit by that day's quake. It had dropped off supplies in one location and was en route to a second site when contact was lost.
The cause of the crash has not been determined. U.S. military officials have said that an Indian helicopter in the air nearby heard radio chatter from the Huey aircraft about a possible fuel problem.
According to a statement from the U.S. military joint task force in Okinawa, Japan, the other victims were Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz of Nebraska, Capt. Christopher L. Norgren of Wichita, Kansas, Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV of Altamonte Springs, Florida, Sgt. Eric M. Seaman from Southern California and Lance Cpl. Jacob Hug from Arizona.
“(She) was the best daughter,” said Lopez, who added she felt “at peace” and trusted was now “in heaven.”
Medina’s older brother Carlos said his sister was very supportive of the family and always thinking of others.
“She was like a second mother, always trying to take care of me,” he told the Tribune. “I am going to strive to be a better person – a better father and son.”
The family said Medina knew in high school that she wanted to join the Marines, getting involved in the junior ROTC program at her school. She enlisted in November 2010, according to the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs.
Her father Miguel Medina told the Tribune his daughter had a willingness to go to the “danger zones” if it meant she would help others, which made her stand out.
“Her mother and me did worry about her,” he said. “I am very proud of my daughter that she served her country.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who ordered all flags be flown at half-staff in Medina’s honor, released a statement.
“Cpl. Sara Medina made the ultimate sacrifice while assisting the people of Nepal during their time of crisis, and her death is a loss for the State of Illinois and the nation. Cpl. Medina’s courage and dedication to serving and protecting others makes her a role model for all of us. She will never be forgotten.”