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Hundreds honour pilot who died fighting Slave Lake wildfire
Linda Hoang, ctvedmonton.ca
Published Sunday, May 20, 2012 6:04PM MDT
More than 300 people came out to Canyon Creek on Sunday where a permanent memorial for the Slave Lake wildfire's only casualty was unveiled.
They gathered to honour pilot Jean-Luc Deba, who crashed his helicopter while trying to fight last year's blaze.
A memorial park in Canyon Creek now stands in Deba's name.
"It was very heart wrenching," said Denny Garratt, Reeve of the Municipal District of Lesser Slave Lake River.
"We've tried to celebrate his life and at the same time try to recognize and pay tribute to all firefighters. I believe that it symbolizes the brave work and the bravery of all the firefighters who came up to help us."
Deba, 54, of Montreal, was the only casualty of the Slave Lake wildfire.
He died on May 20, 2011 when his Bell 212 helicopter crashed into the water of Lesser Slave Lake near Canyon Creek.
Deba was trying to drop water on the flames from a bucket attached to his helicopter when he crashed.
Residents and officials said Sunday they're grateful to have a place they can visit anytime they want to say thank you to Deba.
The pilot had years of flying experience, accumulating thousands of hours in the air, including a decade flying for the military in his home country of France.
After he died, his family and supporters pushed to have him named an honourary Canadian citizen.
While that has not happened yet, he has been named an honourary citizen of Slave Lake.
In the days following the disaster, CTV News spoke exclusively with Deba's daughter.
Christelle Deba had said in an interview from her home in France that the way her father died served as a comfort to the family.
"He was doing his passion and he died helping people," Christelle asid.
"I think there's no [better] way to die."
With files from Jessica Earle
Jean-Luc Deba is shown in this undated photo. Photo provided by family.
A permanent memorial was unveiled Sunday in memory of Jean-Luc Deba, who died fighting the Slave Lake wildfire. May 20.
A memorial bench in memory of Jean-Luc Deba, who died fighting the Slave Lake wildfire. May 20.
A Bell 212 helicopter is shown after crashing near Canyon Creek on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake, just northwest of Slave Lake on Friday, May 20, 2011. (Courtesy: CTV viewer Lorne Lukan)