Seven people died in a mid-air collision between two medical helicopters over Flagstaff in 2008. Now, a local Boy Scout is working to make sure those victims are never forgotten.
Scott Gourley, 17, was only 7 years old when two helicopters, each carrying a patient to Flagstaff Medical Center, crashed into each other on the afternoon of June 29, 2008. They hit about a half-mile from the hospital and crashed into a forested area on McMillan Mesa. All seven aboard the two aircraft died.
Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services of Page operated one of the helicopters. The other was part of Flagstaff Medical Center’s Guardian Air Transport and operated by Air Methods of Englewood, Colo.
Last Saturday, employees from both Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services and Guardian Medical Transport joined Gourley on Sunset Trail, part of the Flagstaff Urban Trails System near Basis Flagstaff, on McMillan Mesa to install two red, custom-made memorial benches — one for each helicopter involved in the crash — along with two plaques listing the victims’ names. The memorial is located on top of a hill that overlooks the site where the Classic helicopter crashed. There is also a view across the meadow to the crash site of the Guardian helicopter.
Gourley did not know any of the victims who died in the 2008 helicopter crash. But he knows someone who did.
“A good friend of ours works for Guardian Air and he told us that there was never a memorial done for the victims of the crash,” Gourley said. “It kind of went off from there that we finally got started doing a memorial for them.”
Gourley is a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 31 in Flagstaff and has been involved with the Scouts for 11 years. He created the memorial as his Eagle Scout project, which is a service project every Life Scout has to complete to move up to the Eagle Scout rank within the Boy Scouts organization.
“I believe this project will be beneficial to the victims’ families and the community as it will honor the memory of the brave men that lost their lives in this accident,” Gourley said in his proposal to the Boy Scouts. “It will also provide a place that the members of the Flagstaff community can come and pay their respects.”
Early in the process, Gourley contacted officials with the city of Flagstaff to get permission to construct the memorial.
“They actually were very helpful,” Gourley said. “They laid a lot of the dirt down for us to build in the area that we were working in.”
Gourley and volunteers spent a day in April laying and tamping down the local rocks and other fill material the city provided to create a flat foundation for the benches that matched the existing FUTS trail terrain. He also asked his former Boy Scout troop leader, retired Flagstaff High School wielding teacher Dennis Rust, to construct the metal benches by hand. Then, Iron Horse Coatings powder coated them for free.
“We actually didn’t have to do any fundraising or anything because we got all the materials donated,” Gourley said. “People are very generous to Boy Scouts.”
Last Saturday, Gourley and about a dozen volunteers spent the day digging post holes, laying concrete, and placing the plaques and benches. He said he and his father just have a couple of touch-ups to finish before the memorial will be complete.
Gourley worked closely with representatives from Guardian and Classic throughout the project, and asked the companies to contact the families of the crash victims.
“All the families were really excited about him doing this project,” said Gourley’s father, whose name is also Scott. “In fact, a couple of them came out to the site while we did the work on it and thanked us for it.”
He added that he is proud his son took on the project.
“My son took it and ran with it,” he said. “I’m very proud with how he’s done that.”
Gourley said he will say a few words about the memorial before opening up the ceremony to anyone who would like to share their thoughts or memories about the victims.
“It’s a great Boy Scout project,” said Guardian Medical Transport Executive Director Mark Venuti. “It’s absolutely amazing that they chose that as a project and they put a lot of work into it. I think it’s going to be a beautiful memorial.”