SANTA ROSA (KCBS) – The U.S. contractor who died Wednesday after an Afghan military pilot opened fire at Kabul Airport was James McLaughlin, a ham radio operator from Santa Rosa, friends said.

McLaughlin, 56, was a retired military pilot who became a flight instructor, training pilots in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and children.

Eight service members were also killed in the shooting Wednesday. An Afghan air force pilot went on a shooting spree after an argument with NATO officials, according to the Department of Defense.

McLaughlin was one of the few with a license to operate a ham radio in Afghanistan. He broadcast daily from overseas, disguising his antenna as a clothesline to keep a low profile.

Although ham radio operators are prohibited from discussing politics or religion, McLaughlin had an avid following.

“He would talk a little bit about the simpler life of the people there,” said Russ Betson, a ham radio operator from Belmont who befriended him because of their shared passion.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

McLaughlin and Betson both belonged to a ham radio club, NorCal DX. Three of its members had been planning to visit McLaughlin in Afghanistan in May.

“We were all very proud of him trying to go out and support our armed services people over there in Afghanistan,” Betson said.

The group shipped over $70,000 worth of equipment to present to McLaughlin as a gift during the trip.

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