MANTECA -- An East Union High School graduate was among the six people killed Thursday when a U.S. Army helicopter crashed in Italy, his family said Friday.
David Alvarez, 31, a chief warrant officer 3, was a co-pilot on the UH-60 Army Blackhawk helicopter, according to relatives.
Military officials have said the crash's cause has not been determined.
Alvarez had been stationed in Aviano, Italy, for two years, according to his stepsister, Jody Lamb of Manteca. He was assigned to secretive flight missions, she said, in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said he had returned to the base between Venice and the Alps last week after four months of training in Germany, and that he was involved in another training exercise when the helicopter went down.
The UH-60 Blackhawk is the Army's general utility helicopter, used for transporting troops and equipment, air assaults, medical evacuations and to support special operations as well as other missions.
"Those Blackhawk helicopters are known to go in to rescue people and to go fight, and they can be dangerous," said Lamb, 52. "But everybody supported David. He was sure this is what he wanted to do. To him, this was 'Right on -- pretty cool,' " she said, imitating her brother's nod of approval. "He was a person of not a lot of words."
Last year's Christmas card features him with his wife, Rachael, in the Alps. They used his assignment as an opportunity to explore Italy and France.
Lamb has two sons about Alvarez's age, Jason VanArsdell, 31, and Justin VanArsdell, 29. The three boys grew up more as brothers after her father, Harold Maxwell, married Alvarez's mother, Nancy Maxwell, when Alvarez was about 4.
He was known as a meticulous student and a quick study. At his 1994 high school graduation, the "A" student was honored for perfect attendance since kindergarten, Lamb said.
'He was going to be somebody'
Alvarez's choice of careers surprised family and friends. He spoke with a recruiter during high school and announced he would join the Army. He grew up in Lathrop next door to former Mayor Bennie Gatto.
"He was just a really nice kid, so polite and so respectful. As he got bigger, you just knew he was going to be somebody," said Gatto's wife, Joyce Gatto, 74. "He was so smart and interested in learning. When he joined the service, we knew he was going to be somebody and he was, he was a pilot. We were proud of him."
He was stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., for much of his career. He began flight training three to four years ago, Lamb estimated.
By then, Alvarez had decided to make the military his career, she said. "That was his plan. He had his whole life worked out."
"I thought, 'Blackhawks, that's dangerous,' but to him, it was interesting, and that was David," Lamb said. "If something interested him, he did it."
Eleven U.S. service members were on board when the helicopter went down near the city of Treviso, U.S. Army Europe said in a statement released by its headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. Six have died, and five others are hospitalized, according to The Associated Press.
Nancy and Harold Maxwell, who now live in Yuma, Ariz., flew to Italy on Friday evening. Harold Maxwell said his son will be buried according to his wishes at Arlington Cemetery.
"Where could he be in better company?" Maxwell said.
The date for a local service has yet to be set. "We were so happy to have him back from Germany all safe and sound," Lamb said. "And a week later, this."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2324.