Roll of Honor

Thomas L. Risk

Thomas L. Risk

  • Pilot
  • Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., USDA Forest Service Contractor
  • Colorado
  • Age: 66
  • Year of Death: 2009

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.

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Memorial Wall

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