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Helicopter crash takes lovable prankster, confident dreamer

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows 1st Lt. Kathryn M. Bailey, of Hope Mills, N.C. Bailey, 26, was among five soldiers aboard an Army Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed off the coast of Hawaii during a nighttime training exercise on Aug. 15, 2017. Bailey was an aviation officer. She received the National Defense Service Medal and other rewards. Bailey was declared dead after DNA analysis confirmed some of her remains were found among the crash wreckage. (U.S. Army via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — A lovable prankster. A confident dreamer. An all-around great guy.

These are some of the ways friends and family described the soldiers killed when an Army Black Hawk helicopter disappeared off Hawaii two weeks ago.

On Thursday, the Army declared the final two missing soldiers dead. DNA analysis identified the three others last week.

The Army lost all five on board when the UH-160 helicopter crashed Aug. 15.

The Coast Guard and other agencies scoured the ocean in the days that followed for the three men and two women. Rescuers turned up pieces of helicopter and helmets over five days of searching.

The search covered a vast expanse of ocean between Oahu, the island where the soldiers lived and trained, and Niihau, Hawaii’s westernmost main island. Currents pushed wreckage far from the crash site.

The Army’s 25th Infantry Division said it was continuing its search for debris along with the Navy and Coast Guard. They don’t have a timetable for when they will stop.

Here’s a closer look at the soldiers:

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CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 STEPHEN T. CANTRELL

Katie Cantrell said her husband joined the Army to support their family.

The 32-year-old helicopter pilot from Wichita Falls, Texas, loved to ride motorcycles and work on cars. He was “always in the garage messing with something,” she said.

He also loved to play practical jokes. Like the time when he poured ice cubes into the shower while Katie Cantrell was showering or when he set off small “Pop-It” fireworks next to her when she was cooking.

“He never was angry. He was always smiling. His laugh was contagious,” she said.

Katie Cantrell is facing a future as a single mother to three children, ages 12, 10 and 7. The special needs teacher is currently unemployed. She gave up her job to move to Hawaii with her family in June. She was planning to start work again on the day of the crash. She will instead move back to the mainland with her children and look for a new job.

Stephen Cantrell’s brother set up a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign to raise funds to help them along, she said.

“We’re going to be on our own,” she said.

Cantrell deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. He received the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and other awards.

His remains weren’t found.

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STAFF SGT. ABIGAIL R. MILAM

The 33-year-old was a Black Hawk helicopter crew chief from Jenkins, Kentucky, a rural town of about 2,000 close to the state border with Virginia.

She made everyone laugh and was universally loved, said Sabrina Flick, a friend who met Milam when they both worked at a Wendy’s restaurant as teenagers. But her confidence and determination stood out.

“If she wanted to do something she was going to do it. And you weren’t going to tell her no. If she put her mind to it, she was going to accomplish it,” Flick said.

One of Milam’s goals was to come home, get a farm and take care of her family, Flick said. “She always wanted a wraparound porch with a screen door that slammed shut,” she said.

The community held a candlelight vigil for Milam on Aug. 19, her birthday, when the search was continuing. People later gathered to release balloons after her death was confirmed. The Walmart in Whitesburg, Kentucky, lowered its flag to half-staff in her honor.

Milam saw the good in people, and she didn’t dwell on what they wore or what kind of car they drove, said her ex-husband, Thomas Michael Milam II. “She could always see past that,” he said.

She always dreamed of serving in the military. “I’m at least glad she got to experience that,” he said.

Flick said she hopes people will keep praying for Milam’s wife and her family. “I know how hard it is for me, so I can’t imagine how hard it is for them,” she said.

Milam received the Army Commendation Medal and other awards.

She was identified by DNA analysis of remains found among crash debris.

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SGT. MICHAEL L. NELSON

The Black Hawk helicopter crew chief from Antioch, Tennessee, deployed to Afghanistan twice. The 30-year-old was a “good soldier, good guy,” said Mario Scott, who deployed with Nelson to Afghanistan for a year starting in December 2008. Nelson was a crew member on Black Hawks that carried soldiers and commanders around the country, Scott said.

Scott said he and Nelson used to go to clubs and play video games together when they were stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“He was an all-around great guy,” said Scott, who is now an IT service analyst at The Tennessean, a newspaper in Nashville.

Nelson was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and other medals. He was identified using DNA analysis.

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CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 BRIAN M. WOEBER

Woeber, 41, had three children, according to The Decatur Daily, a newspaper in his hometown of Decatur, Alabama.

“He was a great guy and friends with everyone,” Heather Aldridge Smith told the newspaper. She remembered the 1995 Austin High School graduate from their time in youth programs as Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

The helicopter pilot was declared dead though his remains weren’t found.

Woeber had deployment to Afghanistan and Egypt. His awards include the Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

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1ST LT. KATHRYN M. BAILEY

The 26-year-old had just moved to Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii from Fort Rucker, Alabama, earlier this year, according to a May article in Hawaii Army Weekly. The newspaper had interviewed Bailey for a story about moving to a new post in the Army. In the story, Bailey recommended that people start preparing for their move early.

The Hope Mills, North Carolina, native joined the Army in January 2015. She was trained to be a Black Hawk pilot. She received the National Defense Service Medal and other awards.

Bailey was declared dead with the help of DNA analysis.

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Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.

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