Pilot who died fighting wildfire near Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., was 'a beacon of light'

Tom Frith, a helicopter pilot who was fighting wildfires in the N.W.T., died Friday when his helicopter crashed at the Fort Good Hope airport. (Great Slave Helicopters/Facebook - image credit)
Tom Frith, a helicopter pilot who was fighting wildfires in the N.W.T., died Friday when his helicopter crashed at the Fort Good Hope airport. (Great Slave Helicopters/Facebook - image credit)

The chief coroner of the Northwest Territories has confirmed the death of the pilot in the helicopter that crashed at Fort Good Hope's airport on Friday.

The pilot, Tom Frith, was the only person on board.

In a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday, Great Slave Helicopters confirmed Frith died in the crash on Friday.

"He was a beacon of light, beloved by all who had the privilege of knowing him," the company wrote.

"Our heartfelt condolences to Tom's wife, children, parents, brothers and all extended family and friends in Yellowknife and Australia."

Fort Good Hope Chief Collin Pierrot said it was a difficult weekend for the community after the death of a young father from Fort Good Hope on Friday and, later in the day, the helicopter crash.

"It was a hard day for everybody. The morale of everybody was gone," Pierrot said. "We just pulled back and for everybody to absorb what happened. It was a hard day.

"I'm still pushing along here with the group of firefighters we have at hand," he added.

In a statement, N.W.T. wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said the his team's "hearts are broken by the loss of a member of our wildfire family."

"The ripples of these events spread far and wide in the firefighting community in the N.W.T, Canada and beyond, given the close and interwoven personal connections formed over many years. Our priority above all else is our team's wellness," Westwick said.

A critical incident debriefing team has been sent to Fort Good Hope and counselling is being offered to the wildfire management team.

"Any lessons which come from this investigation will be applied to all of our wildfire operations going forward," Westwick said.

In a news release Tuesday, N.W.T. chief coroner Garth Eggenberger said the pilot's remains have been recovered and transported to Edmonton for an autopsy.

"The N.W.T. Coroner Service would like to express our condolences to the family, the community of Fort Good Hope and co-workers affected by this tragic incident," Eggenberger said in a press release.

Pierrot said the news of a the helicopter crash came as he was in a firefighting meeting.

The incident happened at the Fort Good Hope airport and involved a Bell Textron B212 helicopter, operated by Yellowknife-based Great Slave Helicopters, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said in a statement Friday.

"We were in a little meeting gathering together to plan out our next steps and somebody ran in to tell us there was a fire across close to the airport," Pierrot said. "Only to find out later on that it wasn't a fire, but a chopper that went down."

Pierrot said there are still about 100 people in the community helping with firefighting efforts.

He also said most of the fuel around the community seems to have burned, but it's not safe yet for community members to go home.

"It's hard to say whether we're safe or not," Pierrot said.

"I'm happy that some of the guys have continued sticking around alongside the N.W.T. firefighters regardless of what we were faced with on Friday," he said.

In an email to CBC, the TSB said investigators accessed the crash site on Sunday and have started collecting data and conducting interviews at Great Slave Helicopters.