Tanker 87‚ Lawrence Lafayette Groff‚ (Larry)‚ born June 17‚ 1946‚ in Clinton‚ Missouri‚ died tragically and bravely fighting a fire in a Grumman S-2A after colliding with colleague Lars Stratte. Both perished on August 27‚ 2001 when their tankers collided over a wildfire in Hopland‚ CA allegedly started by a methanphetamine lab operated by the Hells Angels. Larry was a devoted husband to Christine; an adoring father‚ stepfather and friend to Mick‚ Kim‚ Kara‚ Kristen‚ Kylie and Susie; a baby brother to F.M. and Brenda; and a soul brother to Bob Valette‚ Tanker 86.
Larry joined the Navy after graduating from high school and found his first love-flying. He returned to Missouri after completing his first tour with the Navy. After graduating from Missouri State University‚ he became a naval aviator serving his country for 27 years and retired as Lt. Commander. Retirement from flying didn’t last long.
He began his retirement career instructing pilots in a C-130 for Lockheed‚ and then in 1993 joined the 110 other men and women in the United States flying air tankers for flying fire suppression. In the off-season‚ he flew a C-130 for the United Nations World Food Program dropping food packages into African villages preventing starvation. Larry was a dedicated career pilot with more than 10‚000 hours in a C-130 and 5000 hours in a S-2.
His passions were his wife Christine‚ his family and flying. In his spare time he loved tinkering with anything that presented a challenge. He was a friend to many‚ but especially to his stepson Mick who said‚ I lost my best friend. A master of the BBQ and the rod‚ his ribs put Emirl’s to shame and he never left the Missouri empty handed. He was kind‚ quiet and methodical‚ but a man with a strong presence. Always giving‚ a humble man who could calm a hardened man with his southern drawl. An avid shopper at Wal-Mart‚ always quipping where else can you buy sparkplugs and underwear.
Larry‚ you finally found a way to fly to heaven‚ you earned your wings for good‚ so soar into the open air with God like you should. Yes‚ we still feel the pain‚ though we know your sacrifice was not in vain‚ your love and your life we celebrate‚ despite the heartache. You’re finally free to spread your wings and now to take a bow.