The body of helicopter pilot Michael John Fournier, who died in a crash while fighting a wildfire in Coalinga on Wednesday, will return home Monday after a procession through the Santa Clarita Valley.
The procession is expected to commence at 10 a.m. from Fire Station 77 in Gorman and conclude in Rancho Cucamonga through southbound Interstate 5.
Fournier, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga, was piloting a Bell UH-1H helicopter the morning of Aug. 19 through an outside company to battle the Hills Fire in western Fresno County. He was on a water-dropping mission when the chopper crashed, according to Fresno County Sheriff’s Office personnel, who confirmed the body’s identity on Aug. 20.
“Around 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (SAR) team was requested to the area of South Lost Hills Road and Sutter Avenue in Coalinga,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. “Personnel were needed to search this rugged terrain and recover the body of the pilot. This occurred approximately 10 miles south of the city of Coalinga, west of Highway 33.”
The search for his body took more than six hours due to the challenging conditions for SAR crews to arrive at the wreckage site. The body was taken to the Fresno Coroner’s Office where he was later identified and where officials later notified his wife.
Crews “draped an American flag over the victim then carried his body back to a jeep. SAR decided to bring the flag to honor this pilot for two reasons. One, he was on the front lines helping in an emergency. Two, we did not know if he was former military or law enforcement. We felt it was just the appropriate thing to do,” the Sheriff’s Office added.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation with help from Cal Fire and Fresno County Fire, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Fournier is survived by his wife and two daughters. The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover the family’s sudden loss.