It is with a broken heart I share this life-shattering experience with you. On July 29th at approximately 1 a.m. my husband, experienced Air Ambulance Pilot, Captain Larry Mills employed by Cal-Ore Life Flight, was killed in the line of duty. His medical crew Debra Kroon, Michelle Tarwater and his patient April Rodriguez were also stripped of life. May they rest in peace and be long remembered.
CAL-ORE LIFE FLIGHT CRASH
The Cal-Ore Life Flight crash is under investigation by the NTSB. Parts of the plane are in Washington D.C. as they try to unravel the puzzle of what happened on that fateful night. They know my husband reported smoke in the cockpit, and only seconds later, requested a fire truck. They know the plane broke up in air before it crashed to the ground in the forest.
Below I will post links to the NTSB report and other news related articles. I have created a Facebook page where I can share more of this part of my journey with you. I encourage everyone to like the page, like the posts, and encourage their friends to do the same. Their memory in our minds will become very important as the evidence unfolds. It will take a long time to discover the truth and I would appreciate your support.
Link to Cal-Ore Life Flight Crash Widow Watch Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Cal-Ore-Life-Flight-Crash-Widow-Watch-1797306620504700/
- UPDATE: AN AIRWORTHINESS DIRECTIVE HAS BEEN ISSUED ON THIS PIPER AIRCRAFT
- http://www.airworthinessdirectives.com/Public/NewAD/20170206.pdfUPDATE: THE FAA ISSUES A SPECIAL BULLETIN CONCERNING THE SAFETY OF THE AIRPLANE CAPTAIN LARRY MILLS WAS OPERATING FOR REACH AIR AND CAL-ORE LIFE FLIGHT:
- UPDATE: THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE NATIONAL EMS MEMORIAL SERVICE HAS VOTED TO RECOGNIZE CAPTAIN LARRY MILLS AND HIS CREW
- AT THE 2017 NATIONAL EMS MEMORIAL SERVICE IN ARLINGTON, VA
- SATURDAY MAY 20TH 2017
- UPDATE: THE AIR MEDICAL MEMORIAL WILL BE RECOGNIZING CAPTAIN LARRY MILLS AND HIS CREW IN COLORADO ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE CREW DEATH.
- UPDATE: THE TEXT FROM MY WORDS SHARED AT THE AIR MEDICAL MEMORIAL HAVE BEEN ADDED BELOW.
REMEMBERING CAPTAIN LARRY MILLS
The following is the words I shared about my husband, Pilot Larry Mills at the Air Medical Memorial held in Littleton, Colorado on the one year anniversary of his death.
Pilot Larry Mills was my husband. Larry, his crew Debra Kroon, Michelle Tarwater and their patient April Rodriguez were tragically killed in the early morning hours- one year ago today- July 29th, 2016.
Before I began to share our reflections, I would like to take a moment to thank the organizers of this important event- and to thank all of you- for being here today to respect the ultimate sacrifice of these heroes. To truly appreciate the valor in their actions. To continue to remember them for the remarkable human beings they were on this earth.
My husband Larry was my life-long friend and soul-mate. I adored him and always strived to be more like him. I fell in love with him the minute I met him. He was standing there so tall with his strawberry blonde hair, dazzling blue eyes and charming smile.
I could never adequately express how much love and joy he brought to my life or how crushed I am with his loss. We made many adventurous and beautiful memories together and I will forever cherish them in my heart and soul.
You know, Larry was a pilot and instructor to the core of his being. I know this not because of his over 7,000 flight hours- in much larger aircraft, or the number of times I have been his passenger. It is not because I watched him give Air Force Pilots their initial training, not because of the number of air shows we attended or worked, not even because I watched him direct rotorcraft for a test project for the Army.
No, it was because over the years I was his student for many lessons. Honestly, I discovered it was impossible to even get on the riding lawnmower without the proper briefing. I was systematically instructed on the pre-mowing checklist- to include gasoline level, oil level, properly sharpened blade and greased wheels. I received precise directions on how to work the controls, what to do in case of an emergency- and was properly supervised in order to make sure all safety gear- goggles, ear protection, boots and gloves were in place. I was then tested to ensure my knowledge as I worked through the specified procedures. Safety first! He would say with a goofy face and innocent smile with one finger pointing in the air upon any protest.
Fortunately, because of his deep concern I never experienced a serious lawn mowing accident.
In our thirty plus years together I have never known him write to anything- including love notes, in anything other than precisely sized and placed capital letters- much like the ones you would find in his logbook.
Once when sailing with my daughter and son-in-law, he was overcome with the thrill to teach and fully dressed- he unexpectedly jumped feet first into the deep, cold, lake water, and began acting in distress- while shouting out procedures on what to do in the instance of man overboard. This was my Larry.
He saw each experience, as a teachable moment, and it just made us love him more. He could fix anything, knew the ins and outs of all kinds of engines and mechanical devices and kept our cars, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, dryer, weed whackers and all things mechanical working. He excelled at repairing the tiniest of objects. And knew how to build almost anything and once built a mini helicopter with his brother and then flew it around the countryside for fun.
Larry was a man’s man. He was an accomplished drummer, an avid marksman, loved deep water diving, army jeeps and motorcycles, was a black belt in karate, also instructing in flying and sailing. He spent years successfully training previously untrainable dogs and loved animals of all kinds. One of his childhood friends tells a story of Larry coming upon a car accident where a pregnant mother deer had been struck. Larry quickly administered life saving CPR to the newborn doe- right along the roadside. He took it home and nursed it to health. He was a truly loving and compassionate human being, respecting all life.
For twelve years he was a volunteer firefighter, arson investigator and EMT. He understood smoke and fire- and if there were a plume in the distance as we were driving down the highway- he would begin explaining all the things he knew about the fire by the color of smoke and its other characteristics.
Being a first responder also meant he was frequently rushing out of family events to help someone- and we seldom got anywhere on time because if there was an accident, or someone broken down on the side of the road he always stopped to help. Just days before he was killed he spotted an older gentleman in distress as we waited in line at the bank. He quickly went to him, assessed him, and instructed bank management on what steps to take to get him the help he needed. He promised the man, and stayed with him until he was in good hands.
Larry was a patient, understanding, and loving father. Our daughter Chanda shared these remarks at his hometown memorial service:
My father was my role model, my protector, my confidant and most of all- my hero. One of my fondest memories of him was his reading me the Celestine Prophecies when I was 12 years old. It took many hours of bedtime reading to get through the book but the deep conversations we had and were able to share deepened our bond and helped shape my view and understanding of the world. This is something he tried to do for everyone, to open their eyes to help them see the possibilities. I supported him in his career because I knew he found freedom in flight and gave back to every community he lived in. Whether in be in the frigid bush of Alaska, among the mountains of snow in North Dakota, or the blistery summers of Arizona, surrounded by the oceans of Hawaii, or his final resting place amongst the redwood trees in California– he found happiness with his job, love with his wife and peace with the world. The memory I will always hold closest to my heart is the day that I was able to tell him he was going to be a grandfather. He was so excited about the new life he was going to get to see grow up and teach all of the exciting skills he had up his sleeve. It was important to me that he be a part of my baby’s life. I loved him so very much and will miss him a great deal. He was he one I would call late at night to set things right- to seek advice, the one to which I shared good news is now gone. He left us as a hero, my dad, I love you. Thank you Chanda.
Our bouncing baby grandson was born five months ago. He’s cute as a button, the joy of our lives and already wooing the ladies with his full head of curly hair. We treasure him and look forward to the day when he will be old enough to be given his grandfather’s flag that was flown over the Nation’s Capitol in his honor.
Our son-in-law David recently shared these words. “Larry was like a second dad to me. Many of the things that made him special and who he was proved really inspiring to me. He was a role model in our community, continually serving and protecting- placing the needs of others above his own. I can remember many occasions Larry helping out an elderly friend or neighbor. He taught me many lessons that will serve me well through out my life. He taught me patience. There are few people in this world that truly had the patience of a saint. Larry was one of these rarities. He knew it was okay to make mistakes and realized they were part of the learning process. He always believed in the best of people, helping them to maximize their potential. Larry was quick to laugh, slow to anger, and always ready to lend a helping hand. I will miss his wisdom, friendship and love he so freely gave. I believe his spirit will continue to live on, encouraging and supporting all those he knew. Thank you David.
Larry’s lifetime friend, Dr. K. Smith penned this beautiful story:
Larry walked up to me in the spring of our junior year in high school and said “hey, I’ve been watching you run every day and I was wondering if you would pace me so I can meet the qualifying time for the mile. I said “yea, that would be fun”. Those were the first words Larry and I ever exchanged and it was the beginning of a dear lifelong friendship. A friendship wherein we discovered that we loved playing music together, skydiving together, hang gliding together, and waiting all night to see Rush- close up to the stage together.
Oftentimes, we would stay up all night long talking about our lives and dream of what we would one day achieve together. Our dream took us many places and to many things. We built a band together- The Extremes we built a company together – Surgical Navigation, we owned a plane together – a twin Comanche- that Larry flew, taking us all over the United States- delivering the very first surgical navigation systems into hospitals— And finally we made an album together – Soul Flight, which captured the spirit of life that we shared. In living out our dream, our friendship became a true soul friendship. I miss you Larry and I love you deeply. Thank you Dr. Smith
Flight Nurse Randy Belcher shared these thoughts: I will always remember Larry as a great friend, trusted colleague and professional mentor. Larry was one of the few pilots I worked with that actually seemed to enjoy passing along information and being helpful with the inquiries. He was on top of the game and always ready to practice procedure and show me something new or different when it came to our work together. I always admired his professionalism and attention to detail.
Larry was always the guy that laughed at my stupid jokes and we appreciated one another’s quirky sense of humor and poor taste in movies. He was the person I could always talk to about almost anything at all, and even nothing at all. Larry was indeed ‘that guy’- the one that makes people wonder why the world works the way it does…. and conclude that perhaps this place was just too bad- for someone so good- to remain. They say someone isn’t ever really gone so long as they are remembered, and I can safely say that Larry will most definitely never truly be gone in the lives of many people- for a long time to come. Thank you Randy.
Chief Pilot, Herb Hess, had this to say about Larry- on his last glowing Employee Performance Review…” I have personally been contacted by co-workers expressing their confidence in Larry’s Airmanship. Larry has an extensive knowledge base, and above average experience level. He always performed his required job duties in an above average manner. He has a very positive attitude and an excellent working relationship with fellow employees. He is very diplomatic in handling conflicts at his base. Larry progressed from line pilot to base manager and company instructor. He has the potential to become management material.” Thank you Herb.
Shane Gerbert, aspiring pilot, flight service specialist and former co-worker- captures his memories with these words: “Captain Larry Mills was a lot of things to a lot of people-pilot, package handler, life saver. The person with whom you could bounce ideas off of while you loaded mail in the cold North Dakota winters. Of all the people I’ve met on the ramp, Capt. Mills remains one of the foremost people I’ve had in my mind when I think of the term “professional aviator”-no matter what the job, he’d get it done, with grace, with dignity, with a sense of humor and levity. It’s rare to find someone subject to odd hours, intense physical labor and extreme weather be so gracious day in and day out. Capt. Mills was a pilot’s pilot, one of the best aviation had to offer. Thank you Shane.
I would like to share a poem with you, it’s author is unknown.
I HAVE NOT GONE
You think I’ve gone, that I am dead, and life has lost its will,
But look around, I am right there, living with you still
I watch your tears, I feel your pain – I see the things you do
I weep as well, each time you cry, my soul, it lives with you
It gives such joy to hear you laugh, and do the things you do
And when you smile o’er by gone days, I smile right with you too
For we’re still one, just you and me, one mind, one soul, one being
Walking forward into life, though only you are seen
And in the stillness of the night, when the pain it really starts
Stretch out a little with your mind and draw me to your heart
For I am always right in there, always by your side
For you have been, all my life’s days, my joy, my love my pride.
And now in closing, I would like to ask all of you to stand and clasp hands together as we pay final tribute to Pilot Larry Mills. This song was recorded with his friend Kurt not far from where we stand today. Listen closely to the drums and you will hear the living, beating heartbeat of my husband.
(Song “One Spirit” from the album “Soul Flight” and the band “Wild Divine” plays here.)
Captain Larry Mills, YOU have been loved and we will NEVER forget.
The following is the words I shared about my husband at his first, Brookings, Oregon Crew Memorial.
Other eulogies were filmed and shared, mine was not:
Captain Larry Mills, the pilot in this tragic accident, was my husband. Beside me is our daughter, her husband, and former crew members: Clinical Base Supervisor and Flight Nurse Cambria Hilgers, and Flight Nurses Hillary Smith, Bruce Lindholm and Aaron Downy. They were part of Larry’s crew for five years and love him as I do.
Larry was the love of my life, a good friend since early adulthood, my soul mate for over 18 years. He was not only a treasured husband and loving father, but was about to experience the beauty of his first grandchild. Larry was a kind and gentle man, generous to a fault, quick to smile and to offer a helping hand.
He loved quirky movies and books, sailing and karate. Larry loved animals and had a strong interest in solar energy. He was a fantastic drummer, and was once hired to work in a studio to perform on a CD. Larry was unique in his loyalty to his family, friends, co-workers and company. He loved flying, and he always said it was the only job in the world where he could Fly and do something he loved, while being in service to others.
Larry volunteered as a firefighter and EMT for over 12 years in his hometown. At various times throughout his life he taught flying, sailing, and karate. He was so very patient and kind, all of his students loved him. In fact, everyone who ever knew him loved him
And my sweet husband never had a bad word to say about anyone. Larry loved motorcycles, tanks, airplanes, jeeps, fatigues, and all things military. Because of his fair skin, if he wasn’t wearing his ball hat he would wear a wide brim hat which I always thought made him look particularly handsome.
Once, Larry managed a race car in the pits at the Daytona 500, and was involved in the early development of a computer software bio-feedback game. He had an enormous passion for all animals, and animals of all kinds instantly loved him. He had a goofy sense of humor and was a very happy person. He was passionate about airplanes and flying and became a flight instructor early in his career. He was proud to have given several new Air Force pilots their initial training.
For several years he worked as a project manager thru an Army contract, directing formation rotorcraft flights; a test project in the service of the protection of our nation.
Captain Larry Mills perfected his craft over the skies of Alaska in a Beechcraft 1900, flying in and out of high traffic airports and remote airstrips throughout the state.
He flew mail under contract for the postal service, working midnights six nights a week with his day off at an outpost away from his family. He worked in everything from 20 below to 120 above temperatures, often in weather which included ice, snow & thunderstorms. Larry had several years experience as an air ambulance pilot in a King Air aircraft, flying hundreds of successful missions with his medical staff who he counted among his closest friends. He was well-respected by his former company, who offered him a company training pilot and lead pilot position which he excelled at.
After Larry’s two months of initial training with Cal-Ore, we relocated our home so that Larry and I would become a part of the Cal-Ore family. We arrived at our new home on June 2, and this terrible tragedy happened to our family, his coworkers, a patient, his community and his company on July 29.
Most of Larry’s friends and co-workers do not know how two years ago, I became desperately ill and almost lost my life. It was Larry who waded through the struggles with me; he was willing to do anything, whatever he needed to do to help restore my health. He was there for me, working to pay my medical bills, helping me with household chores, and errands. He even learned to cook, which previously had been one of life’s mysteries to him.
A lifetime of love and 18 years of marriage, is how I knew my husband and soul-mate. And I know in my heart and soul that in the moment of the greatest challenge of his lifetime, Captain Larry Mills placed his entire focus on what steps he needed to take in order to safely transport his patient and crew to their final destination.
My husband was more than just a 30 year experienced and exceptional pilot. He was a loving, giving human being. He helped save my life, and in a cruel twist of fate I am faced now faced with the loss of his.
Our daughter and I have chosen to look at our time with him as life’s precious gift. While his absence on earth leaves great chasms in our lives and in our hearts, he will always be with us in thought and spirit.
I want everyone to know-my precious husband, Captain Larry Mills is a National Hero. He was a well-trained, highly respected pilot who was instrumental to his medical crew and saved untold number of lives. He is also my personal hero.
The answers we seek to this tragedy, will unfold if we all extend our patience, love, respect and gratitude for outstanding and exemplary service. My husband, Captain Larry Mills and his crew were real-life heros- and my hat is off to the courageous pilots, medical staff and ground crew, who continue this essential work even though their hearts are heavy.
With sincere gratitude, we would like to thank those who tirelessly searched, and to all who helped in any way, big or small throughout these last few days. Love and gratitude to The US Coast Guard, Cal Fire, Humbolt County Sheriff, California Highway Patrol, Humboldt Search and Rescue, City Ambulance, Arcata Ambulance, Green Diamond, and Arcata Fire.
Peace and love to my darling Larry- and to his passengers Debra Kroon, Michelle Tarwater, and April. And to each and every member of their families. You will all remain in our thoughts, prayers and hearts forever.
UPDATE: Article in the Curry Coastal Pilot: http://www.currypilot.com/news/localnews/4622130-151/widow-shares-pilots-life-online#.V8dSQpfCCt0.facebook
UPDATE: Article in the Del Note Triplicate: http://www.triplicate.com/features/4624927-151/a-lifetime-of-love?referrer=carousel3
NTSB Preliminary Report: http://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/brief.aspx?ev_id=20160729X31455&key=1