A Dulaney High School graduate and father of three was one of eight soldiers who died Sunday in Afghanistan when the helicopter he was piloting crashed because of mechanical failure, relatives said.
Army Warrant Officer John A. Quinlan, 36, who grew up in northern Baltimore County, radioed that he had lost power shortly before the plane went down, said his father, Robert J. Quinlan of Bradley Beach, N.J.
"He was fighting it all the way down, I'm sure," his father said.
Military officials have said that the crash, the deadliest incident in Afghanistan this year, did not appear to be caused by enemy fire. Fourteen soldiers survived the crash.
Warrant Officer Quinlan, who had served in both Iraq wars and Somalia, joined the military soon after he graduated from high school in 1987. After serving with the Marines for 10 years, he joined the Army to pilot helicopters.
He flew as part of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, nicknamed "The Night Stalkers" because they fly only in darkness, said his father, a retired Army major.
"He was a calculated-risk-taker," his father said. "He was very good at planning and organizing."
Brian Edwards, a boyhood friend who is a detective with the Baltimore County Police Department, said that Warrant Officer Quinlan had an unforgettable personality.
"He commanded the room whenever he came in," Detective Edwards said. "Whether it was his physical size or his sense of humor, he was larger than life."
Family members said that about a week before his death, Warrant Officer Quinlan wrote in an e-mail to his father and sister, Susan M. Ripke of Seymour, Conn., that a helicopter he was flying had been downed by mechanical problems in a remote area of Afghanistan.
He had been planning to return to his home in Clarksville, Tenn., next week to spend his 37th birthday with his wife and three daughters.
"He was really a family man," said his mother, Kathleen T. Quinlan. "When he was home, it was all about doing things for his girls."
Warrant Officer Quinlan, who grew up in the Phoenix area of Baltimore County, attended Immaculate Conception School in Towson through the eighth grade. He went to Calvert Hall College High School for a year before transferring to Dulaney.
A thrill-seeker as a boy, he rode his BMX bike over ramps that he built in the yard of his parents' home and through the woods at Loch Raven Reservoir. "Basically, we did everything short of breaking our necks," said Bill Quaid, a childhood friend who now lives in Chestertown.
Aircraft fascinated Warrant Officer Quinlan from an early age. He built an elaborate helicopter from Legos, his sister said. At Immaculate Conception, where his mother was a teacher, he often got in trouble for flying paper airplanes, Mr. Quaid recalled.
In high school, he wore his red hair in long curls and was not particularly interested in academics, family members said. "He was a wild man," his sister said. So his family was surprised when he announced that he wanted to join the Marines.
"He knew the Marines were tough," his father said. "He said, 'Hey, if I'm going to do it, I want to do it with the best."
In the Marines, Warrant Officer Quinlan worked on a variety of aircraft before becoming an Army pilot.
The CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter he was flying at the time of his death was the only helicopter with a cockpit large enough to accommodate Warrant Officer Quinlan, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall, his sister said.
In August, he was piloting a similar helicopter with 25 people aboard when enemy fire hit the fuel tank, family members said, adding that he managed to land the helicopter and only one soldier was injured in the rescue operation.
His parents last saw him at Christmas, when he brought his family to stay at their New Jersey home. Warrant Officer Quinlan, his wife of 14 years, Julie, and his daughters, Keely, 10, Maddy, 8, and Erin, 3, have lived in Clarksville, Tenn., for the past four years.
In his free time, he renovated his home and worked on classic cars. His father had planned to give him a 1957 red Chevrolet convertible to work on after he retired from the military.
A memorial service is planned for today at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Warrant Officer Quinlan's regiment was stationed. A date for his burial has not been set, but his parents said they expect that he will be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery. They hope to hold a ceremony in New Jersey next month.