Navy SEALS and other American service members who died in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan Saturday were responding to a request by Army Rangers, according to U.S. officials.
An official told The Associated Press Sunday that the CH-47 Chinook was departing when it was apparently hit. The team had just finished helping the Rangers who came under heavy fire.
The crash killed 30 Americans, seven Afghan commandos, and a civilian interpreter. It was the highest death toll for the U.S. in a single event since the war in Afghanistan began a decade ago.
Victims included 22 Navy SEALS who were part of the unit that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed deep sadness over the loss.
"Their courage was exemplary, as was their determination to make this a safer world for their countries and for their fellow citizens," he said in a statement. "We will stay the course to complete that mission, for which they and all who have served and lost their lives in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice. They and their families are in my thoughts, in my prayers and in my heart."
Also mourning was Pastor Brian Bloye from West Ridge Church in the metro Atlanta area. "My heart is grieving tonight for the families of our Navy Seals & others that died in this helicopter crash in Afghanistan," he tweeted.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on Americans on Saturday during his prayer rally – The Response – to pray for the victims of the helicopter crash.
Kimberly Vaughn is the wife of one of the Navy SEALs killed in the crash. She told CNN that she spoke to her husband, Aaron Vaughn, the day before he died.
"We got to tell each other we loved each other," she said to CNN.
"I want to tell the world that he was an amazing man, that he was a wonderful husband, and a fabulous father to two wonderful children," she added. "He was a warrior for Christ and he was a warrior for our country and he wouldn't want to leave this Earth any other way than how he did."
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they hit the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the crash, U.S. officials said.