Alum Killed in Marine Corps Plane Crash Remembered for Enthusiasm

To committed skiers, it’s important to get first chair — to be the first one up the mountain. To Sean Elliott, it was even more important to clean the cabin first.

Elliott ’09 would always be blasting music and energetically cleaning by 6 a.m. on trips with the UC Davis Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team.

Two skiers atop mountain
At Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in 2010: Jason Pepper ’10, left, and Sean Elliott ’09.

“He wasn’t the president, he just took it upon himself — time to get up and clean,” said Jason Pepper ’10, Elliott’s former roommate. “It was just so infectious, like, ‘All right, I guess I’m going to get up and help.’”

Elliott attended Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, between his junior and senior years at UC Davis, and after graduation was commissioned in a small ceremony in the center of the Quad, said his mother, Cynthia Elliott.

He rose to the rank of captain and flew versions of the mammoth C-130 that he had fallen in love with as a boy, sleeping with a model of the plane that can be used for transport and to refuel other planes in the air. He was co-piloting the KC-130T Hercules that crashed Monday (July 10) in a farm field in western Mississippi, killing everyone aboard: 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman.

Smiling Sean Elliott in ski team T-shirt
Sean Elliott in a ski team T-shirt.

Elliott was 30 years old. His name will be added to UC Davis’ Golden Memory Book and Gold Star Aggies Wall, honoring those who died in military service to the United States. His name is the 136th, and the first added since Army Lt. Col. Mark Taylor’s death in Iraq in 2004.

Pepper recalled his friend as honest and straightforward with a contagious zeal for life.

He was house manager for Sigma Phi Epsilon, and led etiquette dinners, taught new members how to clean bathrooms and chastised anyone who suggested the fraternity didn’t need to do more philanthropic work.

Pepper, a member of the ski team and fraternity with Elliott, said Elliott’s intensity and directness could be misunderstood, but no one had more enthusiasm or was more authentic.

Sean Elliott in uniform.
Elliott in uniform.

“You couldn’t have had someone who was more excited to help other people,” he said.

At one point, Elliott grew out his hair so he could cut and donate it — an act some might have said was just a way to “score points” or impress girls — but Elliott was just following his fraternity’s code and living virtuously.

“People can talk about it, but he lived it,” Pepper said.

Elliott studied civil engineering at UC Davis, and had a love for order that could be seen in the way he took fraternity rules seriously, so Pepper said it was no surprise he excelled in the military.

More About Sean Elliott ’09

Sean Elliott co-piloting a C-130.
Piloting a KC-130J over Spain in 2015: Captains Sean Elliott, left, and Orlando Samudio. (Marine Corps photo)

“San Diegan Killed in Military Plane Crash Long Dreamed of Becoming a Marine and Pilot” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A skilled cook who earned the nickname “Scones” around the Sigma Phi Epsilon house for his early-morning baking, Elliott developed a love of field-ration meals ready to eat (MREs) as his graduation and military service grew near, Pepper said.

The cause of Monday’s crash was still under investigation. According to various news reports, seven of the troops belonged to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s 2nd Raider Battalion and were traveling from North Carolina to the West Coast for predeployment training.

The other nine, including Elliott, were KC-130 air crew belonging to Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 452 (VMGR-452), based at Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, New York.

He had received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (2), Korean Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (2), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.

Elliott is survived by his wife, Catherine; his parents, Cynthia and John; and his brother, Erik, a UC San Diego graduate.

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

Primary Category