Memorial for Robert Woodhead, helicopter pilot

From the Lillooet News

Robert Woodhead, the pilot who died on Friday, August 14 when his helicopter crashed as he was dipping water out of the Fraser River near Lytton, B.C., was remembered during a memorial service on Sunday.

Lillooet – Hundreds paid their respects Sunday at the 23 Camels Bridge to Robert Woodhead, the helicopter pilot who lost his life fighting the Intlpam wildfire.

Residents and emergency personnel joined Woodhead’s brother and four children at the afternoon tribute, which brought traffic to a standstill. Local firefighter Alain Auger and Eunice Stotesbury organized the event.

Woodhead was filling his helicopter’s water bucket from the Fraser River on Aug. 14 at about 4:20 p.m. when the craft crashed into the river. His helicopter, a Bell 212, crashed 28 kilometres north of Lytton and was headed to the Intlpam wildfire nearby.

Fire hoses spray two streams of water before helicopters fly over. Photo: Eunice Stotesbury

Another helicopter in the area tried to rescue him after the pilot saw Woodhead surface from the wreck. The other pilot lowered his bucket so Woodhead could grab hold. He could not.

His body was found in the river on Aug. 19, a kilometre south of Yale.

Though the large crowd was nearly silent and the mood was sombre, many cheered in a spectacular moment of the tribute.

Two fire hoses launched streams of water into the Fraser River from the bridge. As the hoses sprayed, three helicopters flew in a row above the river, south towards the 23 Camels. The middle helicopter carried a water bucket.

The middle helicopter released the water before reaching the bridge, prompting a shout of approval from the crowd.

The helicopters then flew over the bridge before breaking formation and turning around.

Bruce Rushton, the chaplain for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, then played the last post and “Amazing Grace” on a trumpet.

Woodhead’s brother and children tossed flowers off the bridge into the river after Rushton played. They were followed by Lillooet Fire Department Deputy Chief David Harder, who invited the audience to release flowers and other mementoes such as poems, into the river.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.