BAKER CITY, Ore. (KTVZ) – Pilot Ricky Fulton died doing what he loved – flying.
Fulton, an Ontario, Oregon resident, was piloting a single-engine air tanker (SEAT plane), helping fight the 30-acre Schill Fire, when it crashed Tuesday night near Emmett, Idaho.
Although this was his first season flying on wildfires for Aero SEAT Inc. of Colorado, his skills were apparent to all he worked with. He had decades of experience, including a stint as a pilot and training instructor for the State Department, spraying herbicide on coca fields in Columbia under fire.
What those who worked at Vale Bureau of Land Management’s Single Engine Air Tanker Base in Ontario this summer will remember him for, however, is his love for a litter of orphaned kittens.
Vale Air Attack Officer Mike Spelman’s cat had five kittens in late July, then failed to come home one day in early August. Unsure how to care for them, he took them to work with him and asked for advice.
Everyone working at the base jumped in to help with everything from bottle feeding to moving their box in or out of the sun, depending on the temperature -- but Ricky was their favorite from the start.
“Ricky adored them, and they adored Ricky,” said Mary LaMoy, a fellow contract pilot who works for Spur Aviation out of Twin Falls, Idaho. “They would climb up his pant legs and hang on his neck.”
The day the smallest kitten – Runty -- finally ate canned cat good, Ricky was so excited he texted pictures to everyone who wasn’t there to share the moment. Soon after, he nicknamed Runty “Piglet” for his appetite.
“We all called him the Kitty Whisperer,” Mary said. “He’d look embarrassed, but I think he really loved it.”
Mary adopted Runty, then changed his name to Ricky after the accident. Two more kittens were adopted by a local veterinarian, and the last two are being taken in by the Simply Cats Adoption Center in Boise.
The organization is waiving the usual surrender fees and is hoping to organize a fundraiser in Ricky’s memory, either for his family or a charity of their choice.
His care for all around him –human as well as feline -- even temperament, dry sense of humor and addiction to Coke floats endeared him to everyone, Mary said.
“You meet so many different personalities and types of people working at a tanker base. Somebody who’s just well-regarded by everybody, that’s pretty cool.”