Courtesy photoEdrik Gomez, right, on the fireline.

Fallen but not forgotten: SOU student was on track to a degree before dying on way to fire

The late Edrik Gomez, one of seven firefighters killed in a helicopter crash 10 years ago in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, will be honored Saturday with a Posthumous Certificate of Achievement at the SOU Alumni Awards breakfast before the Southern Oregon University commencement for “outstanding progress toward degrees in communications and political science” — to be presented to his mother, SanJuanita Gomez, and brother Eduardo Gomez, both of Ashland.

Edrik Gomez on Aug. 5, 2013, was working as a wilderness firefighter for Grayback Forestry of Merlin, making tuition money as he entered his junior year. He had a grade-point average of 3.73 and over 100 credits, his brother Edem Gomez said at a family gathering Tuesday.

“The certificate means a lot to me, his mother. It gives me the joy of having something that would show he would have finished college. It’s something I can hold in my hand,” SanJuanita Gomez said. “All my boys worked so hard for school. He was just not able to finish.”

Another of Edrik’s brothers, Erim Gomez, an environmental science student at Washington State University, said he contacted Mike Beagle, Director of Alumni Relations at SOU, to honor the student. His name will also be read at commencement.

The four Gomez brothers grew up in Coquille and graduated from Coquille High School. “Edrik loved to read and talk with his professors and debate them on a lot of things,” said his mother. “He loved to talk to little children, old people, everyone. He loved music and different cultures. We loved him so.”

To bemused reflections from her sons, she said, “We, his parents ran a very strict household and there was no long hair, but when he grew up and went away he let his hair get wild and we called him ‘grenas,’” which means “tangle” in Spanish.

His brother Eduardo Gomez, an Ashland property manager, noted, “I’ve lived here four years and keep having the pleasant surprise of people who knew him come up and say what a special person he was. Everyone, when they talk to me about him, their face just brightens up.”

Edrik did an internet radio show and was excited about communicating with people, said Eduardo.

“He always wanted to help empower people,” added Erim.

“In a crew of guys, there’s always one who is funny, who picks up the morale, tells stories, jokes and does pranks,” said Eduardo. “That was Edrick.”

Edem Gomez, a planner with Rogue Valley Transportation District, recalled, “He was very interested in the world and learning about people. He was in love with learning. He had a passion for truth and new things.”

The sudden tragedy on the Iron 44 Fire, also called the Iron Complex or Buckhorn Fire, happened at 7:30 in the evening when a Sikorsky N-61 operated by Carson helicopters in Grants Pass lost power on takeoff in the wilderness, causing it to crash into trees, then fall on the ground, exploding in flames.

Gomez was 19, as was another Ashland firefighter, David Steele. Other victims were from Medford, Phoenix, Grants Pass and Cave Junction.

All firefighters who perished were from the Rogue Valley. The pilot and a Forest Service inspector also died. Four recovered from injuries. Lawsuits followed, with engine maker General Electric forced to pay $70 million to a surviving pilot. Carson was found at fault since the chopper exceeded its allowable weight limit. It also lost all federal contracts.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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