HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man who died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed while fighting an Oregon wildfire was a former basketball player at Montana State University and flew search and rescue missions for the Gallatin County sheriff’s office, authorities said Wednesday.
Tom Duffy of Bozeman died in Monday’s crash in Mount Hood National Forest while he was helping fight the White River Fire. Duffy had been making water drops on the fire for several days, officials said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of crash.
Duffy played basketball at Montana State University from 2000-2002 while observing his Seventh-day Adventist faith, which prevented him from participating in basketball activities from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
“If I stand up for God, he’ll continue to bless me,” Duffy told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in 2001.
Duffy had flown search and rescue missions for Gallatin County for 20 years, Sheriff Brian Gootkin said Wednesday.
“Tom was a world-class rescue pilot who instilled confidence in (search and rescue) volunteers on every mission,” Gootkin said. “He was a big man with a big heart who brought calm and skill to every mission.”
Duffy’s identification was disclosed in news releases Wednesday from Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
“Tom’s dedication to protecting lives from the devastation of fires led him to lend his skills as a pilot to our neighbors in Oregon,” Bullock said. “His spirit of service and bravery represents the best of Montana.”
The 40-year-old Duffy is survived by his wife, Robyn, and their three children, according to GleanerNow, a publication of the Adventist Church in the Pacific Northwest.