SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The helicopter pilot who died when his aircraft crashed in Central California while fighting a wildfire on Wednesday was a former ABC 10News pilot.
Michael John Fournier, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga, died when his Bell UH-1H helicopter crashed during a water-dropping mission about 10 miles south of Coalinga, Calif. Fournier was the only person on board, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office (FSO).
Investigators were called out to the scene at about 11 a.m., but were not able to make it to the crash site until about 8 p.m. due to the rugged terrain and intense conditions. Once they reached the site, FSO said crews draped an American flag over Fournier's body and carried his body out of the site.
"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," FSO wrote on Facebook.
Fournier leaves behind a wife and two daughters. A GoFundMe has been posted here to assist his family with expenses.
Fournier was working with Fillmore-based Guardian Helicopters at the time of the crash, according to the Associated Press. Recently, he had flown as part of repair work for Southern California Edison.
In the mid to late 1990s, Fournier was a contracted backup pilot for ABC 10News in San Diego for about two years, said Kyle Anastasio. He’s known Fournier for nearly 28 years. He says Fournier was trying to break into the flying industry when they met.
Anastasio was the primary Sky10 pilot and taught Fournier how to fly the news chopper.
“He was a good pilot,” Anastasio said. “That’s why it’s so devastating.”
Anastasio says Fournier went on to have a great career in flying.
“He took this whole flying helicopters thing to the moon with all the companies he went to, flew utility work and medevac. He was very well known in the industry,” Anastasio said.
He said Fournier loved two things in life: his family and flying.
“Mike was a rock-solid individual, a lot of people are missing him right now,” Anastasio said.
Timothy Gaughen, a former ABC 10News photojournalist, said working beside Fournier was one of the high points in his career.
"Fast, efficient, fun, it was always great. It was always enjoyable," Gaughen said. "There's certain people you remember from your career. I still remember it as if it was yesterday ... Just a pleasant, pleasant personality."
Gaughen said when it was time to get in the air, Fournier was an absolute professional.
"He was just a down to Earth person ... but when it was time to get the shot, boom, we were a two-man team," Gaughen said.
San Diego is no stranger to wildfires and Fournier worked his share of capturing images from above while at ABC 10News, Gaughen says. He adds that Fournier was a safety-conscious man who loved what he did.
"There's something in helicopter pilots, they live and breathe being in the air. He died doing what he loved. He died flying a helicopter and helping people."