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Parents of Wichita helicopter pilot missing after Nepal earthquake braced for the worst

Parents speak about about missing son

Ron and Terri Norgren spoke publicly about their son, Marine pilot Chris Norgren, who was piloting a helicopter that went missing in Nepal earlier this week. The wreckage of the helicopter was found yesterday.
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Ron and Terri Norgren spoke publicly about their son, Marine pilot Chris Norgren, who was piloting a helicopter that went missing in Nepal earlier this week. The wreckage of the helicopter was found yesterday.

Surrounded by memorabilia of their son, Ron and Terri Norgren stood in their northwest Wichita home Friday and talked about how he lived his life.

“He did more in his lifetime than I have done in mine,” Ron said as he looked at pictures in his office. “He’s traveled the world. It’s just amazing.”

Captain Chris Norgren, 31, piloted a U.S. Marine helicopter that disappeared earlier this week during a relief mission in earthquake-stricken Nepal.

The Norgrens were notified Friday morning that the wreckage had been found. Searchers also found three bodies that had not been identified late Friday. The UH-1 “Huey” helicopter had been carrying six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers.

Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the Marine-led joint task force, told reporters in Kathmandu that his team could not immediately identify the cause of the crash nor identify the bodies found.

“It was very severe crash, and based on what we saw in the condition of the aircraft, we believe there were no survivors,” he said.

“They were courageous, they were selfless individuals dedicated to the international rescue mission here in Nepal,” he said.

Speaking in Washington, President Obama expressed condolences to the families and said the Marines “represent a truth that guides our work around the world: When our friends are in need, America helps.”

Chris had been deployed to Nepal after the April 25 earthquake hit to build shelter for survivors.

Terri Norgren said she had been worried about how he would react to the devastation. “He’s a very strong person, but an extremely sensitive person also. He said, ‘Mom, somebody has to do it,’” she said.

When the second earthquake hit Tuesday, he was assigned flying duties. That night, U.S. defense officials declared the helicopter missing.

Ron and Terri said they are still hopeful but have braced for the worst.

“We were blessed to have him for 31 years and, you know, he was an amazing individual,” Ron said.

‘My son is my hero’

Chris was born and raised in Wichita. He went to Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, then Wichita State University and the University of Missouri-Rolla. He worked at Cessna Co. before joining the Marine Corps, where he became a captain.

“My son is my hero and he is with me now and always will be,” Terri said.

Ron has Crohn’s disease, which kept him in the hospital for 18 months. He recently started living at home again. He said the disease almost took his life three times and, at one point, put him in a coma for 30 days.

“I think God brought me back so I could support her during this time,” Ron said, looking at his wife in their office filled with memories of Chris.

Ron said Chris used all his leave and borrowed more to spend time with him in the hospital.

Memorabilia of Chris hangs on every wall of the office, a space that used to be his room. His co-workers from when he interned at Learjet wrote notes that are displayed around a picture of a plane. Photos of his eight-month deployment in Afghanistan hang alongside Marine commendations.

A framed American flag sits on the window sill. Ron said Chris flew that flag, and around 10 others, in Afghanistan for family and friends.

A picture of Chris’ 26-year old sister, Jennifer, sits on a table. Jennifer is developmentally delayed and lives in an assisted living facility. She can’t talk much and is a survivor of leukemia.

“Chris was always very proud of his sister, but I never knew his sister had special needs until I met her and didn’t know his dad was sick until long after because he was always asking how I was doing and what I needed,” said the Rev. Dan Duling, assistant for Bishop Carl A. Kemme.

“Chris was always looking out for others,” he said. “That was him in high school, after and now. That’s just who he was.”

Melissa Lezniak, a friend of Chris since kindergarten, said she doesn’t have siblings. So she considered Chris the uncle to her four children.

“He was so proud,” she said with tears in her eyes, reminiscing about how Chris visited her in the hospital for the birth of her first child.

Lezniak said her 7-year-old son colored a picture of an American flag and soldier for Chris while he was in Afghanistan, and Chris had hung it by his bed. On hard days, she said, Chris had told her the pictures made him smile.

“Chris was the kind of person that would light up a room,” she said.

Contributing: Associated Press and Los Angeles Times

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or gdunn@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.

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