Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Boise pilots' efforts 'saved communities ... saved lives' | Boise ...

? The Associated Press, kmoeller@idahostatesman.com

Friends and family recall the work ethic and active lives of two Boise pilots.

The pilots killed in a firefighting plane crash Sunday were known for their love of outdoor recreation, including skiing, mountain biking and running.

Todd Tompkins, 48, and Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, were in a P-2V air tanker that was dumping retardant on a 5,000-acre blaze near the Utah-Nevada border. The cause of the crash is unknown.

Friends remember that Chambless welcomed newcomers to the Boise Larrikins Hash House Harriers, known lightheartedly as a ?drinking club with a running problem.?

?He always made sure everyone made it back from the run safely, and was ready with a smile, conversation and an encouraging word,? said Martin M. Espil, a rangeland management specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.

?If someone else was having a bad day or week, not only would he jump in to help or take them to lunch, but he would let our mutual friends know, ?Hey, he/she could really use a friendly call.? ?

He often invited friends to barbecues, home brewing events and benefits ? his favorite cause was the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Tompkins was a triathlete, but his favorite sport was skiing. He was active in supporting his 10-year-old daughter, a ski racer on the Bogus Basin Ski Education?s North Series Team.

?I have nothing but good things to say about him. It?s a huge loss for his family and the community as a whole,? said Shannon Carrell, director of the Bogus Basin Ski Education Foundation.

Carrell said the group would be rallying to the aid of Tompkins? family, providing meals and support.

?I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the two brave pilots who lost their lives Sunday protecting Americans from an extremely dangerous forest fire,? said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.


Tompkins loved the challenge of flying over burning forests or rangeland and believed his efforts to slow the spread of wildfires affected lives and the environment, his wife said.

The 17-year veteran of aerial firefighting was dispatched to the Utah-Nevada blaze early Sunday and immediately added to the flyover rotation, wife Cassandra Cannon said.

?He always grew up wanting to fly,? Cannon said. ?But he really liked this type of flying because it was always interesting and challenging to him. In the back of his mind, I knew he understood the risks.

?But he used to come back and talk about so many instances where he felt like their work saved communities, that they had saved lives. It was powerful to hear him talk about that and recognize (the) value of what he did.?

Brian Wiley said he got to know Tompkins during weekend ski-racing trips over the past three years. Families on the trips camp together and spend a lot of time together.

Wiley, whose 9-year-old son is a ski racer, recalled Tompkins telling him that he?d installed a rack for his mountain bike in his P-2V air tanker in case he got a chance to go cycling.

?He was getting a new rating to fly a new all-jet firebomber,? Wiley said.


Tompkins and Chambless began working as a duo this season and had flown together just a handful of times, Cannon said.

The son of a United Airlines pilot, Tompkins flew a variety of wildfire missions across the West, including retardant dumps last summer on fires in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Cannon said. In 2007, he was among a corps of pilots assigned to dumping retardant on Baldy Mountain, the main ski hill at the Sun Valley resort.

Tompkins is survived by three children: Phoebe Turner, 16, and Sam Turner, 15, both from a previous marriage; and Paige Tompkins, 10.

Cannon last saw Tompkins on May 19, when he returned from flight training in Great Britain.

?It?s very heartbreaking for our whole family. But as this has happened, it?s become clear to me how important he was to people,? she said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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