Throughout life, Patrick Pentico fought against the odds and usually won.
On the Wayne High School wrestling team, he defeated opponents who outweighed him by 100 pounds.
And in 2004, with one engine down and their plane heavily damaged by enemy fire, Pentico and his crew safely landed a C-130. All 58 people on board survived.
But on March 31, his luck ran out.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Pentico's plane crashed in Albania's Drizez Mountains on Thursday, killing all nine Americans aboard. The crew was flying the C-130 Combat Talon II in a joint training mission with the Albanian military, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command Europe said.
The cause of the crash is unknown. An investigation into the crash is expected to take several weeks, the military reported.
The airmen were assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron based at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom.
"I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of these brave young airmen," said Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Csrnko, commander of Special Operations Command Europe. "We all share in your sorrow and pain of their loss. We will not forget their sacrifice, and we stand ready to support their families at this difficult time."
Pentico grew up in Hanksville, Wayne County, where he prowled the mountains on his motorbike.
He was a member of the powerful Wayne High School wrestling team throughout high school. The team won the state title every year from 1988-92. Pentico graduated in 1991.
Pentico was a big part of those wins, said his former coach, Kerry Anderson. Former teammate and close friend Greg Pace said he remembers how Pentico wrestled and beat opponents who, statistically speaking, should have beaten him.
"He wrestled heavyweight, and he was just 189 pounds. He wrestled kids that weighed 275 just a lot bigger than him," said Pace. "He was just fearless. That's kinda the way he rode motorcycles and in everything else. Fearless."
Pentico's parents were in Europe on Tuesday to pick up Pentico's wife and were unavailable for comment.
Anderson said Pentico was a good student who always had a smile on his face.
Pentico and Pace graduated from Wayne High School in 1991. Although he was the quiet type, Pentico made friends easily.
"In our graduating class, I think there was like 38 kids, and I can't think of a single one of 'em that Patrick didn't get along with," Pace said. "He was such a happy person."
And Pentico never complained or bragged about his accomplishments, Pace said.Comment on this story
In 2004, the Airlift/Tanker Association awarded Pentico and his old crew the Gen. P.K. Carlton Award for Valor for safely landing a battle-damaged C-130. The plane was transporting special operations forces during a mission in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom when it received heavy enemy fire.
During the mission, the plane took 19 hits from anti-aircraft artillery fire one shell shattered the pilot's windscreen. The plane landed with three of the four engines operating and all 58 people on board were safely evacuated.
Pentico never told his old friend about the award."It sounds exactly like something he would do and not think anything of it," Pace said.