DETROIT - Jamie Brokaw was an experienced navigator who was no stranger to dangerous flying situations and had the skills to stay cool in the face of danger, according to close friend Chris Connerton.
"He was a very good person and very smart person," Connerton told The Associated Press by telephone from Rochester, Minn.
Brokaw, 33, of Monroe, Mich., was among seven Americans killed Monday when their National Air Cargo plane crashed near an Air Force base in Afghanistan. Six of the victims were from Michigan and a seventh was from Kentucky, said Shirley Kaufman, National Air Cargo vice president.
Connerton said Brokaw was a key reason he was able to make it through flight school in Jacksonville, Fla., where they met.
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Connerton also described a harrowing flight two years ago from Toledo, Ohio, to an international flight expo in Lakeland, Fla. Connerton said ice had built up on the plane to the point that he could no longer get it to climb.
"If it wasn't for Jamie's navigation and know-how ... we wouldn't have made it," Connerton said.
Killed along with Brokaw in the Afghanistan crash were maintenance worker Gary Stockdale, 51, of Romulus, Mich.; pilots Brad Hasler, 34, of Trenton, Mich., and Jeremy Lipka, 37, of Brooklyn, Mich.; first officer Rinku Summan, 32, of Canton, Mich.; loadmaster Michael Sheets, 36, of Ypsilanti, Mich.; and maintenance crewman Timothy Garrett, 51, of Louisville, Ky.
Building model planes and working on real ones comprised Stockdale's passion, filling the family's basement with models in his youth, jumping into aviation as a career at age 16 - and later working at two Detroit-area airports.
Stockdale also knew the dangers of flying, his older brother said Tuesday.
"He always said it was dangerous," said Glenn Stockdale, 55. "He would always say, `You either will die in a car crash or a ball of flame in a plane.'"
Lipka had flow in Iraq as well as Afghanistan and had close calls before, said his stepfather, Dave Buttman.
"There was risk there all the time. He knew the risks. He volunteered to take the trips," Buttman told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "Basically, you're taking your chances flying in there and he was just happy to be one of the pilots to do it."
The Dubai-bound Boeing 747-400 - operated by National Air Cargo - crashed just after takeoff Monday from Bagram Air Base around 11:20 a.m. local time, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement Tuesday.
The accident site is within the perimeter of Bagram Air Base.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for downing the plane, but NATO said the claims were false and there was no sign of insurgent activity in the area at the time of the crash.
The NTSB said it will lead a team of three investigators to assist the Afghanistan Ministry of Transportation and Commercial Aviation in investigating the crash. But a ministry spokesman, Nangoialy Qalatwal, said Tuesday the ministry is not involved with the investigation because it occurred at a military and not a civilian airport.
Kaufman said the plane - owned by National Airlines, an Orlando, Fla.-based subsidiary of National Air Cargo - was carrying vehicles and other cargo.
Elena Garrett, of Jeffersonville, Ind., just across the Ohio River from Louisville, said ex-husband Timothy Garrett would have turned 52 on Saturday. They have two daughters together, ages 11 and 12.
"We're all devastated," Elena Garrett said about his death. "We were still best friends. He's the best father I've ever seen (and) ready to help anybody. He would give the shirt off his back for anybody."
Bill Hasler said his family learned Monday morning that his brother, Brad, was one of the crash victims.
"Brad was a wonderful father to two young children, a beloved husband to a wife who is expecting another child, a loving son, and the most loyal and supportive brother I could have ever asked for," Bill Hasler said in a statement. "His influence in the lives of all of us who loved him is immeasurable, and our grief is indescribable."
National Airlines was based until recently at Michigan's Willow Run Airport, west of Detroit. It carries cargo both commercially and for the military, Kaufman said. She said the company employs about 225 people.
Summan had worked 2 1/2 years for National Air Cargo, said his wife, Rajnit Summan.
Rajnit Summan said she last spoke to her husband Sunday.
"I told him to be safe," she said.
Joan Lowy reported from Washington. Associated Press writers David N. Goodman in Detroit, Elizabeth Campbell in Louisville, Ky., and Patrick Quinn in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.