(Update: Church identifies firefighter pilot killed in crash)
Was doing bucket drops on 1,100-acre White River Fire
THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — A helicopter pilot who died late Monday while fighting a wildfire in the Mount Hood National Forest worked for a private company based in Bozeman, Montana that was under contract for aerial firefighting with the U.S. Forest Service, authorities said Tuesday.
“This kind of news is never easy,” said Suzanne Flory, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service. “We have very limited information at this time, but an investigation has started, and it is ongoing.”
Authorities declined to release the name of the man because authorities were still notifying his family, but the pilot had been doing bucket drops on the fire for several days with a Type 1 Kmax helicopter before the crash, said Brian Goff, the Forest Service incident commander for the White River Fire.
However, the Seventh-day Adventists on Tuesday identified the pilot as Tom Duffy, 40, a lay leader with the church.
“The Adventist community in Bozeman is heartbroken by this tragic loss,” says Elden Ramirez, the Adventist Church president for Montana. “Our love and prayers are with Tom’s family and loved ones. Tom has a long history of dedicated service as an Adventist leader here in Montana and the Northwest and will be deeply missed.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.
The White River Fire is currently 15% contained and is a little more than 1,200 acres in size. The week-old lightning-sparked fire has been fueled by gusty winds and is burning in steep, densely forested terrain about 13 miles southeast of Government Camp and 90 miles east of Portland.
More than 300 people are battling the blaze, one of 10 major wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest and currently the No. 2 priority for fire crews in the region.
About 5,000 of the 28,000 firefighters deployed on wildfires nationwide are on blazes in the Pacific Northwest, said John Giller, with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest region.
“The firefighting community is heartbroken to learn of this tragic loss, and our condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends and co-workers,” a Forest Service spokeswoman said in a statement early Tuesday.