The body of U.S. Forest Service fire apprentice Thomas Marovich was flown to his home in Hayward from the Arcata/Eureka Airport on Friday, three days after his tragic death during a helicopter rappel training accident outside Willow Creek.
The flag-draped casket carrying the 20-year-old Hayward man’s body was lifted into a Forest Service DC-3 as his family sat outside the door in tears and bagpipes played Amazing Grace. As the honor guard dispersed, the family climbed into the plane, which promptly lifted off and flew over the group on the tarmac.
Hundreds of local firefighters, police and emergency workers had driven in a procession behind the hearse carrying Marovich’s body from the Six Rivers National Forest headquarters in Eureka to the airport in McKinleyville, and fire vehicles parked on overpasses along the route.
You do all you can to see that they are prepared, said Six Rivers National Forest Service Supervisor Tyrone Kelley of the agency’s firefighters after the ceremony. As a forest supervisor, it’s the toughest job you have, meeting with the parents of a fallen employee to express your sympathy.
Kelley said he was proud of the men and women from the various local agencies who had turned out to honor Marovich, and said they are all driven by their roles as public servants.
On Tuesday morning, Marovich was participating in weekly training at a helibase assembled outside Willow Creek to fight the Backbone
Fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The helicopter he was in was about 200 feet above the Trinity River when Marovich began his rappel. Part of his safety system failed, possibly due to a safety oversight, according to investigators, and Marovich fell.
Emergency life support was given at the scene, but Marovich did not survive.
Marovich worked on the Modoc National Forest, and was training with the Chester Helitack Crew from the Lassen National Forest when the accident occurred. Marovich was in his second year of the forest’s fire apprentice program, which includes learning to rappel from helicopters.
The Forest Service is investigating the incident, along with the National Transportation Safety Board.
Arcata Fire Chief John McFarland said that he was impressed by Friday’s procession, as well as by the drivers who pulled their vehicles off U.S. Highway 101 along the way to watch it pass. He said that few local first responders knew Marovich personally — but that did not stop them from honoring the young firefighter.
It’s a very significant acknowledgment, McFarland said.