ABU DHABI // To his colleagues, Daniel Swayne was one of the most decorated airmen in US military history – a trusted and well-liked pilot and instructor with more than 4,000 flying hours and combat experience in two Gulf wars.
To his family, he was a dedicated husband and father.
Swayne, 51, was killed alongside Emirati pilot Nawaf Al Nuaimi when their AT-802 training aircraft crashed this month.
His wife, Kate, 34, said a letter from her husband that he wrote shortly before his death summed him up.
Speaking in their home in Abu Dhabi, holding their 7-year-old daughter Grace, she read the letter aloud: “You truly complete me, together we are one. I need you because you make me the man I want to be: a loving husband and father, together we’re a family. A strong, loving, healthy family.” Swayne, from Pennsylvania, was one of the few F-16 fighter jet pilots with more than 4,000 hours of flight experience. Active F-16 pilots usually log up only about 2,500 hours.
“He loved to fly, but we were the most important thing to him, and I guess the blessing is that we always knew that,” said Mrs Swayne, who is from Kansas.
“And for him, the world knows that he was an amazing pilot but the world doesn’t know what a loving, compassionate man he was.”
The couple met while she was working in an office job at the Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
Mrs Swayne said he had a reputation as a legend in the military.
She had worked with pilots and knew that there was an element of bravado associated with the job, which initially put her off getting to know him.
“Then I met him and I was so surprised at just how humble he was. Soon enough we were having lunch,” she said.
They quickly got to know each other over work lunches and married soon afterwards.
Her husband’s military career took the couple around Asia. In 2013 they settled in the UAE.
Because Swayne had been deployed in the UAE during the First Gulf War in 1990 and visited it many times since, he developed an affinity for the country and considered it home, Mrs Swayne said.
“I think he has always had a special place for the UAE,” she said. “He and his local friends would go into the desert for falconry and barbecues. He just fell in love with the country and the people.”
Ahmed Zaher, 52, an Emirati former pilot who fought in the First Gulf War alongside Swayne, said his friend would be remembered as an “incredibly hard-working man and a wonderful person to be around”.
“He was so hard working. He wouldn’t accept anything but the best. And then you would also just want to spend time with him because he was really a great and loving man,” said Mr Zaher.
He said that those who remembered Swayne would know most of all that he cared deeply for his family.
The friends of the couple have set up a fund to raise money for Grace's education on the you-caring.com website.
Mrs Swayne said her daughter now aspired to be a pilot after completing her university education.
“He had this way of communicating with people, this patience, just the way he was with our daughter. The way he could teach her how to tie her shoes, something I could never do,” she said.
“[Grace] might have too much of me in her, but there are some things where she’s just like her father.”