Memorials, tributes begin for victims of helicopter crash at forest fire line in California

Memorials, tributes begin for victims of helicopter crash at forest fire line in California

11 August 2008

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USA — Scott Charlson became a firefighter to earn college money and become a sports journalist. At his memorial service Monday, six days after the 25-year-old died in a helicopter crash during a forest fire in Northern California, his best friend recalled his competitive streak.

Charlson and Tim Murphy were golfing once when Charlson, unhappy over two bad tee shots, threw his club, sending it into a pond. He ended up falling in while trying to retrieve it — and Murphy fell in as he tried to help Charlson out.

Standing in the knee-deep water, the two looked at each and burst into laughter, Murphy said.

“He was a fierce competitor, but he always found humor in situations,” Murphy said.

Nearly 300 people gathered at First Baptist Church in Eugene to remember the Southern Oregon University student, who died Aug. 5 along with six other firefighters, a pilot from Oregon and a U.S. Forest Service employee from California. The helicopter was ferrying 10 firefighters, two pilots and the Forest Service employee back to base camp.

Other services and other events are planned this week, including a tribute to all the victims planned Friday at the Jackson County fairgrounds in Oregon.

Charlson was remembered for his love of sports — both as a player of hockey, lacrosse and other sports and as a budding sports journalist who was sports editor at the student paper two years ago at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Charlson also wrote for the university’s sports information service last year.

“He was a sports nut. But he loved writing about it as much as playing sports. It was his passion,” said D.L. Richardson, chairman of the communications department at the university.

Andy Barrey, Charlson’s trainer at Grayback Forestry Inc., described firefighting as “one big brotherhood.” He said Charlson and the others died as heroes when their helicopter crashed and burned moments after taking off.

“They’d been out there in the field for three days and they were coming back in for a shower and a good meal” at the time of the crash, he said.

Meanwhile, the Grants Pass Daily Courier reported that the other helicopter pilot, William Coultas, 44, remained in critical condition Monday with burns over 35 percent of his body.

The other survivors of the crash, Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, were discharged Saturday. They suffered facial burns and broken bones.

The fourth survivor, Rick Schroeder, 42, suffered a cracked shoulder and vertebra, along with scratches, bruises and a badly cut lip. He was released Friday, the Daily Courier said.

Authorities finished collecting badly burned remains from the crash site Sunday. A coroner’s office in Redding, Calif., is working to identify the bodies through DNA analysis and dental records, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tom Kroll said.

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