PORTLAND, Ore. — Three men who died in a small plane crash in Oregon were Afghan Air Force pilots who fought with the American military and came to the U.S. as refugees after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021, according to groups that helped with their resettlement.

Salem for Refugees said it resettled Mohammad Hussain Musawi, 35, Mohammad Bashir Safdari, 35, and Ali Jan Ferdawsi, 29, in the Salem area last spring. The nonprofit provides financial aid to newly arrived refugees and helps them find housing and employment, among other support services. It said it was devastated by their deaths.

“In 2022, they sought refuge and new beginnings in Oregon, where their kindness, skills, and determination quickly touched the lives of those around them,” the group said on a GoFundMe page it created to help cover funeral expenses and support the pilots’ families.

The men lost their lives Saturday when a small plane that was piloted by Musawi and carrying Safdari and Ferdawsi as its only passengers crashed into power lines near Independence, a small city in the Willamette Valley about 12 miles (19 kilometers) southwest of Salem.

Darwaish Zakhil, co-founder and community advancement director of Afghan Support Network, a nonprofit based in Portland, described Musawi as committed and ambitious. He had spoken on the phone with him and met him in person, he said, and had also met Safdari and Ferdawsi at events.

They were all working toward their commercial pilot licenses and wanted to be reunited with their families.

“They were happy. They were hopeful for the future,” he said. “When you look back and see their work and their life, what they’ve been through, it’s so sad for all Afghans around the globe and especially here in the state of Oregon.”

Darin Chung, co-founder of the Afghan American Development group, a nonprofit that helps some 600 former Afghan military aviation personnel in the U.S. with refugee resettlement, job training and family reunification, said he also met Musawi — at the aviation hangar in Independence this past spring. Chung, who was a U.S. Marines pilot for 20 years and served in Afghanistan, described him as “terrifically respectful.”

“As a veteran myself, who spent time in combat, I consider these guys every bit of veteran as a U.S. citizen who spent time in the U.S. military in combat,” he said.

“They’re incredible people,” he said of the Afghans his nonprofit assists. “They have been under more stress than I ever have experienced.”

The pilots’ families have remained in Afghanistan while waiting to be able to come to the U.S., according to the group, which has also created a GoFundMe page. The men hadn’t seen their families since August 2021, when the Taliban swept back to power after seizing the Afghan capital Kabul.

As the Taliban advanced on Kabul, the pilots were among those who flew their aircraft, under fire, to the neighboring country of Tajikistan to prevent Air Force equipment from falling into the hands of the group’s fighters, said Russ Pritchard, the nonprofit’s CEO.

They came to the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome, Pritchard said. The program has helped resettle at least 90,000 Afghans since 2021, including those who worked for the U.S. government and military, according to the U.S. State Department.

“All three of those men were heroes, fought side by side with their American counterparts, participated in one last heroic act and were granted asylum,” Pritchard said. “They all dreamed of their children coming and being educated in the United States.”

Pritchard said most of the people that his group helps have been separated from their families for more than two years.

The small plane carrying Musawi, Safdari and Ferdawsi was traveling in heavy fog Saturday from McMinnville, Oregon, to the Independence State Airport, police said.

Authorities said the initial investigation found the collision with electrical power lines resulted in a small brush fire and a power outage in the community.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating with assistance from Independence police. A possible cause was not immediately released.

The nonprofits working to support the pilots’ families said the Afghan community was grieving the loss. Some 1,400 Afghans have resettled as refugees in Oregon since 2021, according to the state’s department of human services.

“These heroes will be deeply missed,” Salem for Refugees said. “Let’s unite in their honor and give their families the support they need during this unimaginable time.”

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