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Medford pilot killed in crash loved flying

Daniel Townsend loved the freedom of flying and left behind a long list of family members who wanted him to take them on a helicopter ride.

The 37-year-old Medford resident made his last flight Monday after the McDonnell Douglas 369FF helicopter he piloted crashed in Central Oregon.

Townsend was hanging a power line near the small town of Spray when the helicopter's rotor struck a pole. He was working for Johnny Cat/Pacific Rim Helicopters out of Jacksonville.

Kelly Townsend was preparing to visit her husband in Central Oregon on Monday when she was called to her father's home in Grants Pass.

She was met at the home by Medford police, who broke the terrible news.

"It was hard to believe at first," she said. "It's still sinking in."

Daniel Townsend grew up in Wisconsin and moved to the Rogue Valley in the mid-90s.

He had followed an old friend to the area and loved it so much he decided to never leave, Kelly Townsend said.

He joined the Applegate Christian Fellowship and landed a job at Erickson Air-Crane.

His skill at fixing helicopter motors led him east to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he learned to fly.

"He always hated traffic and liked the freedom that flying gave him," Kelly Townsend said. "He talked about how funny it would be to land in his own backyard or at one of his kid's schools."

Mark Gibson, president of Siskiyou Transportation and Timberland Helicopter manager, said Townsend was a mechanic with Timberland Helicopter before becoming a pilot.

"I wasn't too familiar with what he was doing," Gibson said. "But pulling sock lines can be one of the tougher jobs to do with a helicopter, just because you are pulling cable off a spool. For what he was doing, the make and model of the helicopter is pretty common."

Townsend appeared briefly on CNN in 2006 after he helped fly the surviving members of the Kim family to safety after they were found lost in the area of Bear Camp Road.

Townsend flew Kati Kim and her two children out of the area shortly after they were spotted walking along a wilderness road.

"He never said much about the Kim rescue," Kelly Townsend said. "He was broken up over the fact that (James Kim) was not rescued alive."

Townsend jumped at the chance to give people helicopter rides and had a backlog of family members who wanted to join him in the air.

"I never went up with him, though," Kelly Townsend said. "I was scared."

A memorial service tentatively is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 19 at Applegate Christian Fellowship, 7590 Highway 238, Ruch.

Correction: The date and location of this service were changed.

The Federal Aviation Administration is continuing its investigation into the crash.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.