Thomas (Tom) Risk was born February 27‚ 1943 in Lawrence‚ Kansas to Lowell and Kathryn Risk. Tom loved music‚ the mountains‚ his family and most certainly airplanes.
Tom’s love of flight started at the early age of six‚ when he would ride his bike five miles out of town to the county airport to beg for airplane rides. When Tom was in high school he sang in the choir and later became an eagle scout. After high school‚ Tom left home and moved west to the Rocky Mountains by hitching a ride on a plane. Tom ended up in the Grand County area of Colorado‚ at the west end of Rocky Mountain National Park. Tom made a living in those early days as a ranch hand and a ski bum. Tom would also sing at local bars for his super‚ or for lodging‚ and any tips that the locals could spare. Tom described his first season in the mountains as a ‘skinny’ winter.
The draft came and Tom joined the Marines. He went to Vietnam where he was part of a helicopter crew and he was decorated for his service. But Tom rarely spoke openly and always modestly of his military service. After returning from Vietnam‚ Tom finished his service in the states‚ and once again headed for Colorado. With his GI Bill‚ Tom was able to get his pilot’s license‚ and his professional pilot career began.
In 1972 Tom moved to Denver where he flew jumpers‚ was a crop duster‚ and later became an air tanker pilot. At this same time‚ Tom met his future wife Janie‚ whom he married in 1975. Tom and Janie raised two daughters‚ Sunny and Shelly.
Tom accumulated 42 years of aviation experience‚ 28 of those years fighting fires in heavy air tankers. In addition to his proficiency as a pilot‚ Tom spent several years working on those same tankers in the off-season as a mechanic. His Cessna ground-up restoration was also a part of his ‘spare time.’ Tom’s tanker assignments took him all over the Rockies and also to California and north to Alaska. Tom was known for his kindness‚ honesty‚ and strong work ethic. He had a wonderful smile and a dry sense of humor. He was generous to his family and others but remained frugal himself‚ a trait retained from those early ‘skinny’ winters.
Tom Risk died at age 66‚ in an air tanker crash while en route from Montana to a wildland fire in New Mexico on April 25‚ 2009. Tom is survived by his mother Kathryn‚ his wife Janie‚ his sisters Peggy and Janiece‚ his daughters Sunny and Shelly‚ and 5 granddaughters. His family will always remember his high spirits and he will always be in our hearts.
Brian J. Buss will forever be in our hearts and memories. Born on January 2‚ 1977 in Nazareth‚ PA to Joe and Cindy Buss. From the start Brian was bound and determined to make is own path in life.
Through his journey he had many accomplishments. One of his biggest and most proud accomplishments was his family. Brian married Trina and proceeded to have two beautiful children‚ Hannah and Madalynn. His daughters were his heart and soul. He wanted nothing more than to give them everything. While on the road fighting wild fires he made sure to call home every night and tell ‘his girls’‚ ‘Daddy loves you‚ bigga much. Sweet dreams.’
Brian entered Pennsylvania School of Technology‚ Penn State as a non-traditional student in their school of Aviation. He would graduate from Penn Tech with a Bachelors Degree‚ Summa Cumlaude and receive is A&P certification.
Brian did not seek a career in firefighting‚ but it was in the cards. Brian wanted to move to Montana after graduating from Penn Tech. His wife said he had to find a job first. So he did. Brian was hired by Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula‚ Mt. Where he became a crew chief‚ aircraft mechanic and avionics technician. Working for Neptune allowed Brian to fulfill a life long dream of working on aircraft and living in Montana. Being a part of the firefighting community was an added bonus that he learned to love.
There was nothing that he didn’t enjoy doing. Brian loved to smile‚ laugh and sing music. Whether it was outside fishing‚ hunting ‚ sitting by the fire pit‚ watching sport on TV or playing games. Above all Brian enjoyed spending time with family and friends. His home was always open to anyone that wanted good food and to share stories and laughter.
The night before Brian died he told his wife ‘I’m completely content and happy with my life.’ On April 25‚ 2009‚ Tanker 42 was dispatched to a ranch fire in New Mexico. The plane crashed just outside of Stockton‚ Utah. His family is blessed to be able to say ‘Brian lived his life to the fullest‚ and died doing what he loved to do.’ This is such a small glimpse of his amazing life. He touched thousands of people with is warm and caring heart and laughter. We all love and miss you‚ Brian. We look forward to the day we see you again. For now we must find a way to move forward. But your memory and love will always be in our hearts.
Mike began his career in aviation by skydiving out of planes and was a certified parachute rigger before getting his pilot’s license. His introduction to aerial firefighting happened on one of his early jobs as an airtanker copilot on a B-17 out of Hemet‚ California.
He met his wife Marilynn in Flagstaff‚ Arizona where he worked as a charter pilot and instrument instructor‚ and in 1987 they were married on a beach in Hawaii. In Flagstaff‚ Mike was instrumental in developing the air ambulance service for northern Arizona‚ which eventually became Flagstaff Medical Center’s ‘Guardian Air.’ He was appointed Director of Flight Operations in 1988. In the 1990’s‚ he and his wife moved overseas where he first flew for Air Seychelles before becoming a training captain for Abu Dhabi Aviation.
His favorite jobs were the ones that allowed him to use his skills to teach or to help people‚ and aerial firefighting was top on his list. He eventually returned to the airtanker industry flying for Minden Air‚ H & P Aviation‚ and finally Neptune Aviation of Missoula‚ Montana where he was employed at time of his death.
Mike was a quiet man‚ but if you asked the right question‚ you might find yourself receiving a lengthy lecture in response. His desire to know the details on any subject that interested him earned him the nickname ‘the Ruminator’ at work. He may not have been ‘the life of the party‚’ but once in awhile he’d come up with a zinger that would leave everyone in fits of laughter.
Mike’s favorite hobby was working with computers‚ and he liked trying out new software‚ especially anything aviation related. He enjoyed watching old movies‚ reading science fiction and had recently developed an interest in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Mike loved big cats and had a soft spot for orphaned kittens. He and Marilynn adopted 7 stray cats. Mike had three grown children from a previous marriage: Heather‚ Joe and Jennifer; and was the grandfather of Megan‚ Jake‚ Mya‚ Jessie and Taylor.
Mike was enroute to New Mexico to fight the Four Mile Fire when his plane crashed in bad weather in Utah. Ironically‚ the fire was near his home in Alamogordo. This meant he would have had the rare chance to work the fire in the daytime and return to his own house at night‚ rather than the motels he usually lived in during the fire season. Instead‚ he left behind a devastated wife who thinks the universe made a cosmic error to let such a talented‚ intelligent man lose his life so soon before his time.
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