Saturday, July 16th, 2022, will long be remembered as a dark day for the Bernalillo County, New Mexico Sheriff’s office as reports began to come in of the loss of their UH-1H Metro 2 with four souls on board.
The helicopter had been assisting for the majority of the day on a large fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico, and had departed with a full tank of gas headed for home.
Three of the four persons on board were the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office members and a Bernalillo County firefighter.
“It is with a sad and broken heart that we think of the heroes we lost this weekend,” Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Fire Chief Greg Perez said in a joint statement. “The reality is that we will likely grieve this loss forever. Each of these heroes died doing what they loved, serving others. They paid the ultimate price, and we are forever grateful to these men for the love and passion they had as first-responders.”
Among the victims was Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, 55, a long-time pilot with the agency who had served for over 20 years. Koren was part of a New Year’s Day mission to rescue employees and a tram operator who got stuck while descending in the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, for which they were just awarded a FLIR Vision award posthumously at the recent APSCON convention in Reno, Nevada. Koren is survived by his wife and two sons.
Lt. Fred Beers, 51, a thirteen-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, is survived by his wife and son.
Also killed in the accident were Deputy Michael Levison, a five-year veteran of the agency who had also served in the New Mexico Air National Guard, and Bernalillo County Fire Department rescue specialist Matthew King, 44, survived by his wife and two children.
On Thursday, July 21st, at approximately 3:30 PM, Thomas “Tommy” Hayes of Post Falls, Idaho, and 36-year-old Jared Bird of Anchorage, Alaska, were both lost in the crash of a CH-47 helicopter that was fighting the Moose fire in Idaho.
Tom’s ability to lighten any situation is well-known amongst the tightly knit Chinook helicopter community. His entire career was steeped in aviation maintenance, and he held FAA mechanic, helicopter instructor pilot, and commercial airplane pilot certificates.
In the military, Tom worked in South Korea all over the US and hazardous duty operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the ”Horn of Africa.” After retiring from his 20-year Army career, he worked in Chinooks for Helimax Aviation and Billings Flying Service before dabbling in airplanes and smaller helicopters. This fire season, he chose to work with a new team at ROTAK Heli, once again on his favorite machine, the CH-47 Chinook.
Tom was raised in Orofino, ID, on the famed Clearwater River, which he often referred to as “God’s country.” For the last several years, he based himself in Post Falls, ID, and is survived by his partner Kristin and her daughters Linnea, Sonja, and his little buddy Mira, all of whom he planned to share the rest of his life.
Services honoring Thomas P. Hayes were held in Orofino, Idaho, on the 5th of August. Immediately following the service was a procession to the burial at Orofino Cemetery that included the fly-over of his beloved CH-47 Chinook.
Jared Bird was an avid fisherman, participating in a group chat about the upcoming “fish fest” in Kenai, Alaska, writing to friends, “We will all catch 1,000,000 fishes!”
Unfortunately, Jared was airlifted to Montana after the crash but did not survive his injuries. Jared was a decorated military veteran and, most importantly, partner to his wife of over 10 years Jordan.
Jared and Jordan were referred to lovingly by friends as having an incredibly strong partnership- not just husband and wife; they were best friends and an amazing team.
The local communities and friends of both pilots and the communities in Idaho surrounding the crash site that was being protected from the fires have raised substantial amounts collectively to benefit the families of the fire pilots.