Rebekah DeMorgan’s husband Rick, 43, was a flight engineer on the Coulson Aviation C-130 aircraft that went down in Australia on Thursday, killing him and Captain Ian McBeth, 44, and First Officer Paul Hudson, 42.
DeMorgan tells PEOPLE Rick had only started his job with Coulson in mid-January. He had been looking for a position that involved flying, his biggest passion, and was slated to retire from the Air Force in March after 24 years.
“Rick loves to fly. He loves to fly,” she says. “That’s what he does, that’s what makes him tick. And that’s what makes him happy, so if doing that to fight fires or ship animals, I think he would be doing it, as long as it included flying.”
She and Rick had been married for 19 years, and shared two children: Lucas, 13, and Logan Grace, 10.
“He loved his wife and kids. He loved us very much,” she says. “He wasn’t a very openly affectionate and emotional kind of man, but… he made sure the three of us knew that we were loved.”
The Navarre, Florida-based mother of two says their kids are keeping their heads up as they fight through the difficult time in the wake of their father’s death.
“They’re doing as well as can be expected. They’re managing rather well,” she says. “They’re very smart and they’re very strong and we’re definitely working through it.”
Rick’s plane went down in New South Wales as he and his colleagues sought to help combat the raging Australian bushfires, which have reportedly killed at least 33 people, per The Guardian, while wiping out an estimated 1 billion animals.
“At Coulson Aviation, we have the incredible job of fighting fires around the world and we take pride in this responsibility,” a company media release said. “Right now, our hearts are with the crew’s family and friends and our Coulson Family suffering in the loss of these three remarkable and well-respected crewmembers.”
Rick, Hudson and McBeth were also praised for their sacrifice by U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr.
“The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need,” he said in a statement. “The families and friends of those who we have lost are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity.”
McBeth lived in Great Falls, Montana, and is survived by his wife Bowdie and children Abigail, Calvin and Ella.
He was a long-serving C-130 pilot and had spent many years fighting fires in the military and with Coulson. He previously served with the Wyoming Air National Guard, and was a member of the Montana Air National Guard at the time of his death, according to Coulson’s release.
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Hudson lived in Buckeye, Arizona, and is survived by his wife Noreen. He was a 1999 Naval Academy graduate, and went on to spend 20 years serving in the U.S. Marine Corps before retiring as a Lt. Colonel, the release said. Hudson also held a Masters in Business Administration and Information Technology Management from the Naval Postgraduate School.
The privately-owned Coulson Aviation was lending help to the ongoing fire disaster in Australia, and had been contracted by the Rural Fire Service, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The cause of the crash remains unknown.