Tom Hayes had many roles in his life, from his service in the military to work as a helicopter pilot fighting fires, but most people will remember him as a friend.
His father, Tim Hayes, of Orofino, said that Tom always had a smile on his face. His mother, Becky Hovey, of Lewiston, said that Tom joked a lot, often to cheer people up in tough situations. “He’d start cracking jokes and made everything light-hearted,” she said. “He had a huge smile and great green eyes.”
Tom, 41, of Post Falls, died July 21 in a helicopter crash while assisting firefighters in the Moose Fire, near Salmon, Idaho. Tom and another pilot, Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage, Alaska, were flying CH-47D Series Chinook helicopters for ROTAK helicopter services, according to the Clearwater Tribune.
Tom’s service at 3 p.m. today will give all those who knew him the chance to remember who he was and all that he did. The funeral will start at the Best Western Lodge at Rivers Edge in Orofino. He will be carried in a carriage with a horse and buggy through Michigan and Johnson avenues in Orofino, then his body will be taken to the cemetery to be buried by the Military Honor Guard and U.S. Forest Service Honor Guard. Chinook helicopters will fly in at the airport in honor of Tom before the service.
Tom was “the most likable kid you’d ever meet,” Hayes said. When he would come to Orofino to visit, he would talk with his dad for an hour before going into town and catch up with friends or end up talking with the mayor. Hayes has gotten more than 160 phone calls from people about Tom. Hovey said he was well-respected in the military and his stepfather, Steve Hovey, said that he treated everyone with respect.
“He was a friend to everyone,” Hayes said, including himself. “I was his best friend and he was mine.”
Darrel Dodge, of Boise, counts himself as one of the lucky people to call Tom a friend. The two grew up together in Orofino from elementary school until graduation. “You couldn’t find one of us without finding the other,” he said. Both went into the military after graduating in 1998, Tom went into the Army and Dodge headed for the Coast Guard. Throughout their military careers, they kept in contact with each other, even visiting each other on weekends when they were stationed close to each other.
Tom would call Dodge a couple times a week to talk. He had a friendship with Dodge’s wife as well and would call and text her and make sure that Dodge, who is a combat veteran, was doing OK. “I don’t know who’s more devastated, her or me,” he said about losing Tom.
Tom was also helping Dodge with getting his commercial pilots license, with the idea of opening a business together working with helicopters.
“It’s hard to explain 37 years of friendship in a couple minutes,” Dodge said. “He’s a friend everybody wishes they had. He was the type of guy that would give you the shirt off his back in freezing weather and never complain about it being cold.”
Helping plan the service for Tom is also a way Dodge can be a friend to those who knew Tom. “My job is to make them feel better, that’s the job I took on with helping with arrangements. Help his friends, help his family because it’s the same thing he would do,” Dodge said. “He would put himself on the back burner to help the others.”
And there are many of Tom’s friends planning to arrive in Orofino. “He’s got hundreds of buddies that are flying in and gonna go,” Hovey said. Hayes said people are coming from the East Coast, South Korea and “all over the planet.”
Some of those people who are arriving in Orofino know Tom from his time in the military. Tom decided he wanted to fly helicopters after working one summer fighting fires for the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association.
“(Tom) always wanted to be a helicopter pilot and the best way to do it, the only way to do it really, is to get into the military to be a helicopter pilot,” Hovey said.
During his military career, he earned the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4, or CW4, a senior level rank that means the person is highly specialized and a trainer in their specialty. Hovey said that the position is rare and a person in the military told her seeing one is “like seeing a unicorn.”
During his Army career, Tom went all over the world to countries including South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. He flew the royal family in Iraq along with American dignitaries such as Sen. John McCain, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, Hayes said. He was stationed in places like Fort Riley, Kan., Fort Drum, N.Y. and Fort Bragg, N.C., where he had 250 men under him.
“He was always able to live his dreams through all the adversity and he always had a smile on his face,” Hayes said. “It’s hard to wrap up everything he accomplished in his life.”
Hovey’s learning more about Tom’s military service and all the things he did and places he went. “He didn’t tell us much because Tom wasn’t much of a bragger,” she said.
Tom served for 20 years in the military and flew 15 years in the private sector. He worked for Helimax in California fighting fires in South America, Billings Flying Service in Montana and then moved to Post Falls to be closer to home. Tom signed up to fly jets for commercial airlines and was almost done with training before he ran out of money. Then he worked for LifeFlight but it was “too boring for him,” Hayes said. That’s when he began working for ROTAK, based in Anchorage, Alaska. “He loved firefighting and loved flying helicopters,” Hayes said.
Hayes found out about Tom’s death from his daughter and then he called ROTAK. He told them who he was and that he wanted to know what was going on. The person on the phone “was crying like a baby and I had to console him,” Hayes said. “It was quite a shock. It shocked everybody.”
Hayes said that the crash was caused by mechanical error.
“Something went wrong up there and he did every maneuver trying to recover that chopper,” Hovey said. “But it didn’t work. It just crashed.” Hovey said that Tom is a hero in Salmon because he moved the helicopter away from people on the beach so it wouldn’t land on top of them.
Hovey and Hayes went to Salmon and both were impressed by the treatment they received from people. There were no places to stay because firefighters were staying in the town as well, but Hovey and her husband, Steve Hovey, ended up in a “mansion” along the river. “They treated us like gold,” she said.
Hayes also received great care from the people of Salmon, the forest service, the Lemhi Sheriff’s Office and the funeral home. “I’ve never been treated nicer in my entire life by anyone. They were perfect,” he said. “My heart goes out to those people, and I do mean every one of them.” He was also sent a package from the mortuary in Salmon. “All I got was a watch, wallet and a pair of boots,” he said of the items that belonged to his son.
Hovey was able to visit the crash site and memorials are being planned for Tom and Bird, the other pilot who died. State flags were ordered at half mast by Idaho Gov. Brad Little until the funerals were over.
“What people don’t realize, (is) when those guys are doing this in those Chinooks, in those massive helicopters, they’re risking their life,” Hovey said.
“Anybody who flies helicopters knows if you crash, few get out of it, and (Tom) knew that,” Hayes said.
Tom wanted to be buried in Orofino, next to his grandfather, Hayes’ father, who Hayes said Tom was very similar to. His friends Conner Whitehead, Jim Engle and Dodge helped plan the funeral and started a GoFundMe to pay for the expenses, which raised $21,000 in the first five days.
Hayes said that Tom was able to live his dream. “He wanted to do it all, and he did,” he said. “He thought the world of his friends, and his friends thought the world of him and he will be greatly missed.”
Brewster may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2297.