BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) – An Army pilot who died when the Black Hawk helicopter he was flying crashed Wednesday near the city of Karbala has become the first Vermonter killed in the war in Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer 4th Class Erik A. Halvorsen, 40, was a career soldier who joined the Army after earning a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering at the University of Hartford in 1986. His father, Halvor A. Halvorsen, lives in Richmond, Maine.

Dorothy Halvorsen of Bennington said she knew that her son’s latest assignment was different from previous ones.

“I had a bad feeling since the time he left,” she told the Bennington Banner. “He knew he was going to a dangerous place. He kind of prepared things so if he didn’t come back we would know what to do.”

The helicopter crash, which happened 50 miles south of Baghdad in a region of heavy combat, is still being investigated. The crash killed six soldiers, injured four and left one missing, according to the Pentagon.

Halvorsen’s death was the first Vermont fatality of the war in Iraq, said Col. James J. Boutin of the Vermont National Guard, the officer assigned to inform Dorothy Halvorsen of her son’s death.

“I know he was quite a soldier,” Boutin said. “He was thought of pretty highly. He was pretty skilled.”

Halvorsen, who served with an aviation regiment of the third Army infantry division, had been stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. He had once been stationed in Korea and also had served in Bosnia and in Operation Desert Storm, his mother said.

Erik Halvorsen placed his personal effects and important papers in storage and arranged it so his family could retrieve them, she said.

“He was a man of few words, but those actions …, ” she said, her voice trailing off. “He was very somber when he left.”

Letters were an important part of the family’s life during Halvorsen’s final days. He wrote many letters, and was frustrated that he couldn’t phone or e-mail, his mother said.

When she learned Thursday afternoon of her son’s death, she had just completed a letter to the editor of the Bennington Banner, in which she said that she had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but urged everyone to support the U.S. troops who “have been asked to do a job and are responding responsibly to that request.”

The final letter she received from her son came from Kuwait, just before the war started.

In it, he expressed hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Iraq.

Halvorsen’s sister, Brenda, wondered aloud Thursday from her home in Lake Worth, Fla., if her brother had gotten her final letters to him.

“He was my only brother,” she said, sobbing. But she fought back the tears to say she fully supports U.S. policy in Iraq.

“I fully supported it. I’m not angry, by any means,” she said. “It’s what he wanted to do.

“I can’t accept the death yet but he died in a very honorable way. I’m very proud of him. He was trying to make our country a safer place to live.”

She said she was unable to sleep Wednesday night after hearing on the news that a Black Hawk UH-60 had crashed.

“I just knew. I cried,” she said.

Erik Halvorsen had been married and divorced, and had no children. Along with his mother and father, Halvorsen is survived by three sisters and his maternal grandmother.

“My son was a wonderful person,” said Dorothy Halvorsen. “He was brave, he was caring, and he loved flying. I was always very proud of him.”

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