Washougal High School graduate, Marine killed in helicopter crash

Alec Langen, 23, was one of 5 killed during training exercise Feb. 6

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A 2018 Washougal High School graduate was one of five United States Marines killed in a helicopter crash during a training flight in Southern California earlier this month.

Alec Langen, 23, was a crew chief on the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter that crashed Feb. 6, in a mountain range near San Diego.

“I just felt like a hole was ripped through me, because he was like a brother to me,” said Max Churchman, a fellow 2018 Washougal High graduate and one of Langen’s close friends. “I was in shock for a whole day. Sometimes I still can’t believe it, to be honest.”

Langen’s helicopter departed from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and was headed to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in the San Diego area, according to Veteran of Foreign Wars Department of Washington commander Craig Doughtery.

“(It) was on the return flight in rough weather north and east of the San Diego Marine air base when the helicopter went down,” Doughtery stated in a Facebook post. “It was found (the next day) near Pine Valley, east of San Diego.”

Langen was accompanied by Lance Cpl. Donovan Davis, 21, of Olathe, Kansas; Capt. Benjamin Moulton, 27, of Emmett, Idaho; Capt. Jack Casey, 26, of Dover, New Hampshire; and Capt. Miguel Nava, 28, of Traverse City, Michigan.

All five of the Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and were based at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California.

“We have been confronted with a tragedy that is every service family’s worst fear,” Marines Lt. Col. Nicholas Harvey said in a statement. “Our top priority now is supporting the families of our fallen heroes, and we ask for your respect and understanding as they grieve. The Flying Tigers family stands strong and includes the friends and community who have supported our squadron during this challenging time. We will get through this together.”

Langen was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in October 2022.

“His dream was to do this job he was doing as a crew chief since he was 3,” Steve Langen, Alec’s father, told KSAZ-TV in Phoenix. “I did the exact same job in the exact same helicopter.”

Being a Marine “was everything” to Langen, according to his mother, Caryn, who moved to Arizona with her husband after their son enlisted.

“Steve pinned his wings on him when he finished training,” she said. “He idolized his father.”

Langen earned several decorations, including Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals, a Good Conduct medal, a Global War on Terrorism service medal, a National Defense Service medal, and two Sea Service deployment ribbons, during his tenure as a Marine, according to a news release.

“He loved his job,” Churchman said. “He loved it so much. I think he would’ve done it until they said, ‘Get out of here. You’re done. You’ve done your time.’ He loved flying. He always talked about it when he was a kid. And when he made it, and he had his dad’s job, and received his flight wings that his dad had earned in the Marine Corps, that was so special to him. It was super cool seeing him travel and do what he loved to do and what he said that he was going to do from the first time I met him.”

Langen lived in Chandler, Arizona, at the time of his death and was a newlywed, having married his wife, Casey, in January. He planned to take on a new assignment and move to North Carolina in April, according to Churchman.

Langen moved with his parents to Washougal from Michigan when he was a middle-school student, according to Churchman.

“Alec was an amazing, amazing young man,” said Washougal resident Lori Webb, the mother of Langen’s friend, Blake.

Langen enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities, including camping, fishing and “cruising around in the woods” with his friends; working on his car; and playing video games, according to Churchman.

A photo of Langen and his friends on a camping trip, taken in the spring of 2018, shortly before they graduated from Washougal High, was in his flight bag, recovered at the crash site.

“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Churchman, a staff sergeant currently assigned to Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington. “He’d give you the shirt off his back. He was so genuine and selfless. He was just a good buddy, always there for you. Nine times out of 10, he was always smiling and laughing. … He always had a smile on his face. It didn’t matter what we were doing as long as we were together having fun.”

Langen also was interested in music and became a drummer, serving as a member of Washougal High’s concert band and percussion ensembles.

“I think it was the camaraderie,” former Washougal High band teacher Kelly Ritter said of what may have drawn Langen to joining the concert band. “He’d be in the back with his percussion buddies, and we’d be playing something, and we’d get to a point where the percussion wasn’t playing anything, and they’d be goofing around and dancing. Here’s this tall kid, who carries himself like a Marine even though he wasn’t a Marine yet, dancing away with the other percussionists with a big ol’ grin on his face. He was always just a real positive kind of kid. He was a very fine musician, too.”

Langen was “very focused,” according to Ritter, whose mother, former Washougal High math teacher Karen Wysake, also taught Langen.

“We were talking about him, and she said, ‘What was great about Alec is that he always had his homework done on time, always studied, and was always very reliable and committed,” Ritter said. “He showed up, he had his work done, and he was pleasant to deal with. I think that that probably had a lot to do with that upbringing of a military family.”

Langen, who participated in the aviation program at Cascadia Technical Academy in Vancouver during his high-school years, fit in well with the rest of the student body, Ritter said.

“Sometimes, the kids that bounce around have a hard time,” she said. “But that was never a problem with Alec. He was always very open for who he was, easygoing, welcoming to others. I can’t think of anybody who would ever have a single negative thing to say about Alec. Everybody always really liked him.”