A Bell 205A helicopter operated by Valhalla Helicopters went down in a marshy area northeast of Peace River Wednesday evening. The pilot, 41-year-old Ryan Gould, did not survive.
The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
Speaking to Global News on Friday, Ryan’s wife Carlyn Gould said her husband’s first love was flying.
“He had been doing this for over 20 years. He was very experienced in wildfires,” she said.
Carlyn described Ryan as her rock — a “real-life hero.”
“I call him a hero because in the 20 years of flying fires across Canada, in the U.S., and in Australia, he has kept many crews safe from being taken out in fires. He has saved people’s homes and their livelihoods. He has taken care of the people, and not just fought the fires.
“He was very convicted and hard-working,” she added. “He wore his heart on his sleeve. He was our protector. He loved our kids, me, his family, his community. He loved his work. It was more than just a job; it was a second family.”
Carlyn said she couldn’t have asked for a better father for their children — aged seven and nine.
Ryan was about 10 days into a 14-day tour, she said.
Carlyn and the boys spoke to Ryan on the phone every night when he was done work.
“My youngest, the seven-year-old, liked to ask Daddy specifically about what he did and how many hours and how many things did he save that day?”
“We all had a conversation with him the day before he died,” she said. “And the only reason we missed his call the day he died was because when he would have called, he was already gone.”
“He was the love of my life. My kids adore him. He had a great sense of humour.
“He was, on the exterior some would say, a big grizzly bear, but he was the biggest teddy bear on the inside,” she said.
“He had the biggest heart, whether it was for his family, for the people he worked with, the animals on our farm here.”
She said, as a pilot, he would have to be away for weeks at a time, but when he came home, he made the most of it — spending time with the family, homeschooling the kids, cleaning and helping around the house.
“Despite him being gone to provide for us, when he walked in that door, it didn’t matter how tired he was, he lit up for our family. He would immediately be there for all of us. He was present in every way.”
As a family of a pilot, they knew the risks but tried not to dwell on them.
“We, as a family, for other reasons in our lives, always lived by a very strong motto, which was: Don’t wait until it’s too late. We believed in it, we said it often, we repeated it, we lived it,” Carlyn said.
“We always had good, connected time and interactions and memories with him. And we have no regrets. We have no words that were unsaid and no love that wasn’t given and shared.”
She said her husband was “an insanely loyal person.”
“He would not have said he was a social person … but he could walk into a room full of people and light it up and make them laugh.
“I knew he had that before, but in the last couple of days since he died, I have experienced the impact and the magnitude of who he was and what he did from so many people across the country. It is actually astounding to me that he was that valued and appreciated and loved by so many people I didn’t even know about.”
A statement from the family said Ryan was born in Whitecourt in 1982 and got his commercial helicopter licence after completing high school. After marrying Carlyn, they lived in southern Alberta while he flew as a commercial pilot. They then purchased a farm south of Whitecourt “to set their roots.”
Ryan loved working for Valhalla Helicopters and the people there were like a second family, Carlyn said.
“They have been wonderful and their help is very much appreciated,” she added.
A fundraising page has been created to help support the family, who lives in Whitecourt, Alta.
“I’m very thankful for it because of our situation,” Carlyn said. “Because of my husband’s career, having things like insurance on your mortgage and on your life was not an option for us. It is very cost prohibitive to have when you chose a life as a pilot, so we didn’t have those things in place.
“It has added a lot of stress to my life because I worry my kids will lose more than just their daddy. They could lose their home and everything that Ryan and I tried to build for our family and for our future.”
She said the outside support is like a life raft for the family.
“It’s definitely helping take the pressure off … so that we can move through the steps of grieving over Ryan,” Carlyn said.
She said she’ll always remember the amazing man he was.
“He had a great impact … My kids (Gus and Evan) and I were blessed, even though our time was cut way too short. At least we got years with him, because he was a gem.
“He’s greatly missed. There’s a very big hole and void left behind and there will always be that void.”