Friday, August 18, 2006

Valley man killed in helicopter crash

Stone family built solid legacy in Wood River Valley

Express Staff Writer

Among those killed in a helicopter crash in the Payette National Forest Sunday was a man with formidable roots in the Wood River Valley.

Quin R. Stone, 42, of Emmett, was the pilot of the Eurocopter A Star 350 B-3 helicopter that went down in the Payette National Forest during a fire-fighting mission. Stone, who grew up in the Hulen Meadows subdivision north of Ketchum, was killed along with firefighters Lillian M. Patten, 34, of Olympia, Wash.; Michael Gene Lewis, 37, of Cascade; and Monica Lee Zajanc, 27, of Boise.

Stone is the son of Dr. Bryan Stone and Ann Stone, who left the valley in the early '90s to work in Africa before eventually settling in Emmett. Dr. Stone secured something of a legacy as a longtime local family doctor who delivered several decades worth of local babies.

"It's been pretty painful," said Dr. Stone. "A lot of tears. When you lose your son, you just want to hold him."

He said his son had been a pilot for about 15 years, and that this was his second year working with rappelling crews during the fire season.

Quin and his brother, Greg, were well-known members of the Sun Valley Nordic Ski Team.

"He was a great athlete and a very smart guy," said Ketchum resident Pam Grant, who skied with Stone and graduated from Wood River High School with him in 1982.

"I've known him for as long as I can remember," Grant said. "He was his own person. I can remember a number of occasions when it was the cool thing to pick on certain people. Quin would stand up and say, 'No way.' He was one of those people who stood up for what was right."

Patty and Jake Provonsha were family friends with the Stones. Jake Provonsha said the two families' children were roughly the same age.

"Quin always wanted to fly helicopters," Provonsha said. "I don't know how dangerous flying helicopters is, but it's a real tragedy. But at least he was able to fulfill that dream of doing what he wanted to do, and I think that's pretty great."

The helicopter crash that claimed Stone and three firefighters occurred at approximately 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, in the Payette National Forest, about 18 miles west of Yellow Pine. Stone was flying the firefighters to the Krassel Guard Station in support of fire-fighting activities.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth on Tuesday extended sympathy to family and friends of the four killed.

"As fires continue to rage throughout the Western states, we are reminded that fire fighting is a dangerous business," Bosworth said. "No piece of land or anyone's home is worth the loss of life. Our firefighters' and the public's safety is and always will be our first priority."

A representative of the National Transportation Safety board and a U.S. Forest Service accident investigation team are examining the crash site.

For the past two years, Stone had been working for Evergreen Helicopters Inc., headquartered in McMinnville, Ore.

Tim Wahlberg, Evergreen's board chairman, said Stone's was an impressive flight history.

"He's got a lot of flight hours, something like 4,500 flight hours in a helicopter, so that's quite significant," Wahlberg said. "He had a lot of time in the forestry business—fire fighting, logging, but also in petroleum exploration and production and wildlife game surveys. He's got a lot of well-rounded experience."

Wahlberg didn't know Stone personally, but said people at the company who did described him as a quiet sort who "sort of stuck to himself."

"He was always there to help anybody when he could," Wahlberg said.

And Evergreen is as interested as anybody about why the helicopter went down.

"We don't know what happened. We're very sad about him and his three passengers," Wahlberg said. "Our company has a really outstanding safety record, so we're going to get to the bottom of this to ensure that what happened won't happen again. Safety's really our top priority."

Local residents who knew the Stone family consistently reiterate that Dr. Stone was a solid thread in the fabric of the local community. Provonsha remembered when, before the family departed for Africa, Dr. Stone posed with several decades worth of local children he'd delivered.

"It points, really, to the fact that he was an integral part of our community," he said.

Linda Fisher-Hilmer is a registered nurse who worked with Dr. Stone at the Ketchum Medical Clinic for eight years.

"He is genuinely one of the most caring people I've ever met," she said. "He truly was like a dad to every one of us, nurses and staff at Ketchum Medical Clinic. He's truly the most genuine, caring person you could ever think of."

Fisher-Hilmer now lives in South Orleans, Mass., but she easily remembers her time in the Wood River Valley. She didn't know Quin Stone very well but said both he and Greg Stone were good kids.

"Both of his boys were just gentlemen," she said. "I didn't know Quin or Greg very well, but they were just excellent, excellent men."

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