Pilot's family remembers a man who loved helping others
Published Sunday, May 29, 2011 6:03PM MDT
After wildfires tore through the town of Slave Lake, forcing thousands from their homes, hundreds more worked to fight the fires and protect as much of the town as they could.
CTV News spoke exclusively with the daughter of the helicopter pilot who died while helping fight the flames. She remembers a man who lived and died doing what he loved.
Jean-Luc Deba had years of experience, accumulating thousands of hours in the air, including a decade flying for the military in his home country of France.
The 54-year-old had flown some of the most powerful and recognizable people in the world in his career, some of his past clients include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
"We never thought about it because he was really good," Deba's daughter Christelle Deba said in a phone interview from her home in Montpellier, France. "He was really experienced, we didn't think about a death."
His job was to fight the wildfires near Slave Lake from the air, by dropping water on the flames from a bucket attached to his helicopter. It's a difficult task for any pilot, even the most experienced.
It was all part of Deba's lifetime passion: helping people in need.
In the afternoon of Friday, May 20th, Deba was scooping water from Lesser Slave Lake to fight the wildfires, when the situation took a turn for the worst.
Witnesses say his Bell 212 helicopter seemed to fall from the sky.
"I was just walking to the neighbour's property and they'd been bucketing all day and a chopper came over and he went to go into a hover and he tipped right sideways," said Lorne Lukan, in an interview with CTV News on May 20th. "In seconds he went over, went into a hover and tipped right sideways and went straight down."
The aircraft ended up crashing into the water near the shore of the lake.
The way he died serves as a comfort to his family; his daughter says he loved his work.
"He was doing his passion and he died helping people," Christelle said. "I think there's no [better] way to die."
Jean-Luc Deba was the only casualty in the disaster; his sacrifice was acknowledged days later in a celebration in downtown Slave Lake. According to Slave Lake's mayor, the town will not soon forget the loss.
"There is not a day that goes by that our prayers [do] not [go] out to that person's family," Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said. "It's very much in our mind."
The Transportation Safety Board has not released details on the investigation into the crash, and investigators have said it could take up to a year to release results. However, Christelle Deba told CTV News that investigators have told her the crash was not caused by a medical episode. She says officials are now focusing on flying conditions and mechanical malfunction as the causes for the crash.
With files from Sean Amato