A Northwest Indiana airman killed in an Air Force helicopter crash in England had planned to retire soon.
Tech Sgt. Dale Mathews, 37, was one of four airmen who died Tuesday when their helicopter crashed during a training mission.
A former classmate and close friend, Cathy Rea, said she communicated often with Mathews through Facebook and Skype.
"He was still part of our daily lives," said Rea, who graduated with Mathews in 1994 from New Prairie High School.
She said Mathews, after 20 years in the Air Force and running numerous rescue missions in a helicopter, was planning to retire from the military and look for a civilian job in the area of his hometown, Rolling Prairie.
"We were looking forward to him coming home," said Rea, who lives outside New Carlisle.
Among the things he was looking forward to doing in his upcoming civilian life was kite surfing on Lake Michigan, one of his favorite hobbies during his time off from the military.
She described Mathews as "full of life" always seeking adventure and doing something "wild and crazy" or poking fun at somebody with a smile that would like up a room.
Her brother and Dale were best friends and her husband, Robbie, and two sons, Aiden, 12, and Jacen, 6, were also very close to Mathews along with other members of her and the airman's family.
Rea said his death Tuesday fell on her oldest son's birthday and both of her children heard her crying when news first broke about his passing.
Dale was into vocational electronics while in high school and driving fast on the rolling hills of northern LaPorte County, so he and whoever was riding with him could feel the butterflies of their stomachs lifting from almost going airborne.
"My dad said yesterday that Dale lived more of his life than somebody who lived to be 110. Every day he was just filled with a lot of life," said Rea.
She said Mathews was a flight engineer and gunner and would fly into a combat zones to retrieve injured servicemen.
"Every time we talked we were just so proud of him. We couldn't say it enough," said Rea, who added they always made sure that Mathews knew "we just wanted him to come home safe and that we loved him."
Mathews leaves behind his wife of eight years, Kim, along with two children and two stepchildren.