EUGENE – Nearly 300 people gathered Monday for a memorial service honoring a college student who died along with eight other men in a helicopter crash during a California forest fire.
Friends, family and other firefighters remembered Scott Charlson, 25, for his sense of humor and his love of sports. The Southern Oregon University student became a firefighter to earn college money and become a sports journalist, according to those speaking at First Baptist Church on the outskirts of Eugene, where Charlson’s family lives.
The helicopter that crashed on Aug. 5 was ferrying 10 firefighters, two pilots and a U.S. Forest Service employee back to base camp. Seven firefighters, a pilot and the Forest Service worker died.
Other services and tributes are planned this week, including one to all the victims on Friday.
Speakers said Charlson overcame the physical and emotional challenges that are part of summer work on the fire line.
Andy Barrey, who has been a firefighter for more than 30 years and who trained Charlson at Grayback Forestry Inc., said that despite the long hours and the dangerous work, Charlson “stepped up.”
“Scott was a good young man,” Barrey said during the hourlong memorial.
Friends painted a picture of a driven young man who didn’t lose his sense of humor.
“He was a fierce competitor, but he always found humor in situations,” said Tim Murphy, his best friend, remembering a golf outing in which Charlson threw his club into a pond after two bad tee shots, then started laughing when the two fell in trying to retrieve the club.
A common theme was Charlson’s love of sports – both as a player of hockey, lacrosse and other sports and as a budding sports journalist. He was a sports editor at the student paper two years ago at Southern Oregon University in Ashland and wrote for the university’s sports information service last year.
“He was a sports nut. But he loved writing about it as much as playing sports. It was his passion,” said D.L. Richardson, chairman of the communications department at the university.
The surviving helicopter pilot, William Coultas of Cave Junction, remained in critical condition Monday at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento with burns over 35 percent of his body.
Other survivors include Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, of Medford, who were discharged from the medical center on Saturday. They suffered burns and broken bones.
The fourth survivor, Rick Schroeder, 42, of Medford, suffered a cracked shoulder and vertebra, along with scratches, bruises and a badly cut lip. He was released Friday from Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif.