A 52-year-old helicopter pilot from Southern California and former high school coach was killed Wednesday in a crash while fighting a wildfire near Fresno.
Mike Fournier was piloting a Bell UH-1 helicopter, contracted to perform water drops over a brush fire in Central California, when the airship went down Wednesday morning in Coalinga, an hour from Fresno. The helicopter was about 11 miles south of New Coalinga Municipal Airport in an area that is still burning.
"It’s not going to be the same without him," said Riley, Fournier's daughter. "He changed so many people’s lives for the best and people are going to miss him so much."
Wife Leanne said Fournier would always hug and kiss her and the couple's daughters, then tell them he loved them before leaving for his job.
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"He was so safe," Leanne Fournier said.
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department Wednesday night drove by his family's home to pay their respects.
The crash site is still in the fire area, according to CalFire, which calls it a "hot zone." They say they have no idea why the helicopter crashed, with only the pilot onboard.
Fournier was used to precise flying, having been a former television news pilot for a station in San Diego and recently flying helicopters to help repair work for SoCal Edison. Fournier also was a former high school football coach in Covina.
Wednesday night, his wife, Leanne, and daughters -- 20-year-old Mikena and 16-year-old Riley -- honored a man who died doing what he loved: helping others.
"He was an amazing, amazing man, and I'm so proud to be his wife," Leanne said, through tears.
"I love you and will continue to make me proud," Mikena said.
The family has set up a GoFundMe to help the family that suddenly lost its loving father and husband. If you would like to donate to the GoFundMe, you may do so here. Please note that GoFundMe takes a percentage of all fees donated in the form of platform and other fees.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.
The fire is one of hundreds burning around California, including two large complexes of wildfires in the Bay Area.