PEORIA — Be it divine providence or a young man trying to stay awake before a long training mission, Daniel Baker picked up the phone and called his family the night before his aerial tanker collided with a Marine Corps fighter jet.

Baker, 21, and four other Marines were to go on an early morning training mission Thursday off the coast of Japan. But just before the mission, Baker called home and spoke to his family, for what turned out to be the last time.

"Daniel had to stay up all evening and part of the night before this last mission," said Matt Miller, an elder at the family's church, Northfield Christian Fellowship, and a spokesman for the family. "I believe it was scheduled for the middle of the night in Japan's time zone. He phoned family and a few friends while he was waiting for the mission and talked to his family for more than an hour.

"The family sees those phone calls as a gift from God, a tremendous comfort during an extreme trial. While Daniel called home occasionally, these were extended calls and they had plenty of time to chat about life and everyday things," Miller said.

The 2015 Tremont High grad was one of five who went missing at about 2 a.m. Thursday morning when a F/A-18 Super Hornet and a KC-130J Hercules collided during training roughly 55 nautical miles southeast of Cape Muroto in the Kochi Prefecture of Japan. Seven crew members — two in the fighter and five in the aerial tanker — were initially missing. Two were recovered. One of them, Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, 28, of Miramar, Fla., died.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith, commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, announced, "After an update from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, and a review of all available information, I have made the determination to end the search and rescue operations for the crew of our KC-130J aircraft, which was involved in a mishap off the southern coast of Japan, and to declare that these Marine warriors are deceased. Every possible effort was made to recover our crew, and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by U.S., Japanese, and Australian forces during the search.

"The KC-130J flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been located at this time, making it premature to speculate about wreckage recovery. Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment. We remain, Semper Fidelis."

The search covered more than 35,000 square nautical miles and involved approximately 900 hours of searching by Japanese, Australian, and U.S. aircraft, ships, and other assets, according to the Facebook post.

Baker was assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, which flies the KC-130J, a plane similar to the C-130H3 flown by the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing, which is based in Peoria. The KC-130 is the Marine Corps’ primary fixed-wing aerial tanker that is used to provide in-flight refueling to aircraft such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet and helicopters likes the CH-53E Super Stallion. Known as the Sumos, the 152 squadron is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.

Baker, who was a crewmaster on the plane, was described by his friends as a young man who had "an unparalleled quest for adventure," something that likely played a large role in why Baker chose to enlist in the Marine Corps.

"His ability to work hard and stay humble defined his successes and undermined his weaknesses. But what might have stood most tall amongst his many character qualities was the ability he had to reach out to the people around him and bring them in as friends, despite the differences in belief, culture, personality, or background that may have been present between Daniel and such a person. It didn't matter who you were, how you might have first met him, or what the day's plans entailed, odds are, you were welcomed to join in the events warmly and immediately," one friend said about Baker. 

Another friend, in a statement from the family said, "Daniel never did anything half-way. If he was going to do something, he did it big. He was a quality person who did everything he set his mind to do and did it well. He met his goal of being on an an air crew by hard work and determination and he had a lot of fun along the way."

Miller said the family is in the midst of planning a memorial service for Baker.