MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WTVO) — Machesney Park native Nathan Carlson, 21, was one of five US Marines killed Wednesday when a military Osprey aircraft crashed during a training exercise in California.

Carlson graduated from Harlem High School in 2019 and was captain of the swim team.

Friends and family say they’re in shock at the news.

Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, the commander of 3rd Marine Air Wing confirmed all five were dead after initial reports said four were dead and one was missing.

His cousin, Gage McDonald, said “[I’m hoping I get] a call from Nathan saying he was just merely helping them and he couldn’t get any cell reception out in the desert. I’m going to wait for that call for a long time.”

McDonald says he’s still holding out hope that Carlson is still, somehow, alive.

“I’m still very much in disbelief of it,” he said.

McDonald said Carlson was a star everywhere he went. The two often played video games together all night and went on “spooky” car rides, and used pep talks to motivate each other, he said.

“We went to a local place, called Blood’s Point, in Belvidere. We’d get a little spooked, I remembered, and it was just a funny ride,” he recalled.

Damien Feierday first met Carlson when they were each 12-years-old, playing baseball. He said he will remember him as a “genuine” person.

“From that time to the very last time I saw him, [he was] the same person: happy, super fun going guy, really acceptable [sic] of everything and everyone around him. Just a great guy,” Feierday said.

Carlson’s friends say he was tailor-made for the U.S. Marines, a natural leader who pushed others to be their best.

“I guess, [to] honor his legacy is to carry some of the characteristics that he had,” said Seth Antczak. “To be sacrificial, caring, and reaching out to people.”

Now, his friends say their biggest regret was not taking advantage of the time they had with him.

“He was so influential, and this community really cared about him,” added Shawn McWilliams. “So many people had love for him. He was just that type of person.”

Instead of mourning, they say Carlson would’ve wanted them to celebrate his life because he died doing what he loved, serving the country.

The family says they are still in the process of planning his funeral.