A banner depicting a LifeGuard helicopter ascending into the skies above Central Peninsula Hospital bears notes of sympathy and gratitude as the Kenai Peninsula says goodbye to flight nurse John Stumpff, pilot Lance Brabham and paramedic Cameron Carter. Friends and family echoed similar sentiments and shared stories at a memorial service in the Denali Conference Room at the hospital on Sunday.
Photo by Jessica Cejnar
Laughter floated amongst the crowd in the Denali Conference Room at Central Peninsula Hospital on Sunday and tears trickled down the cheeks of friends, family, coworkers and the community that gathered to say goodbye to flight nurse John Stumpff, pilot Lance Brabham, paramedic Cameron Carter and patient Gaye McDowell.
One by one folks shared their most treasured memories of Stumpff and his windmill, Brabham's ability to calculate power trends in machinery and Carter's contagious smile, but every person who spoke said the same word: dedication.
"People spoke of them with love and respect. They could be counted on to do a good job (and) sought to help at all costs the patients entrusted to them," said Meg Zerbinos, Central Peninsula Hospital spiritual care coordinator. "In a world so in need of role models, these men are role models for all of us."
Stumpff, Brabham and Carter were the crew of a LifeGuard helicopter that vanished over Prince William Sound while transporting McDowell from Cordova to Providence Medical Center in Anchorage on Dec. 3. Alaska State Troopers, members of the United States Coast Guard and the Rescue Coordination Center uncovered Stumpff's remains near Whittier on Dec. 8, but called off the rescue operation two days later. Central Emergency Services and other civilian boats took up the recovery effort on Tuesday.
Paul Garnet wore his blue flight paramedic uniform in honor of Stumpff, Brabham and Carter. Garnet helped Stumpff erect his 60-foot high wind tower on Oct. 16. When he went back to Stumpff's cabin not long after the LifeGuard helicopter went missing, the whirring of the turbines reminded Garnet of Stumpff's triumph over the utility companies by generating his own electricity.
"I left that evening when we finished and John sat outside until three in the morning waiting for the wind to come and the blades to turn for the first time," Garnet said. "John has often called for the sole purpose of informing me of what his battery levels are at and how many amps he is producing. I'm going to miss the calls, but as long as the wind blows in Alaska I think I will remember John and his energy."
Jennifer Armstrong told the community that Carter was the other man in her life, and her husband knew it. Whenever Armstrong wanted a friend to go to the movies with, Carter was that friend. She told Central Emergency Services Captain Lesley Quelland how much Carter both respected and looked up to her, and let his family know that they also played an important role in Carter's life.
"I want Cameron to know he's changed my life," she said. "Cameron was a hero because of the way he lived, that's how we choose to remember him."
Keith Ikerd and his sons met Brabham when cutting his neighbor's lawn. When Brabham approached Ikerd to ask him to cut his lawn, Ikerd said he was so busy, he didn't want to do it, but Brabham's easygoing nature won him over. Ikerd looked forward to cutting Brabham's grass every week because that meant he would have an opportunity to talk to Brabham and check out his garage full of toys, including an engine to an old Honda Odyssey.
"At the end of the summer, he put it together and painted it purple," Ikerd said. "We talked about the future, about his future. He would have been a great Alaskan man."
Central Emergency Services Chief Chris Mokracek extended his department's sympathies to the families of Brabham, Stumpff and McDowell. He gave a brief history of Carter's life, including his path from Georgia to the Kenai Peninsula. He said Carter had a great passion for NASCAR and animals, adding that even though Carter's family was in Palmer, his extended family was with Central Emergency Services.
"We were his brothers and sisters," Mokracek said. "Cameron was on top of the world doing a job he loved. He isn't lost, he was never lost. (He's found) unimaginable paradise in heaven, as Cameron would say, 'That's sweet.'"
Outside the conference room a banner depicting the LifeGuard helicopter ascending into the skies from the hospital's heliport bore words of comfort and gratitude.
"You have always been here for us in our hour of need," one note read. "I hope my thoughts and prayers help you through your hour of need."
"Thank you for your service and dedication to your fellow mankind," wrote Marsha Mitchell, who works in Emergency Department admissions. "We appreciate all of you so much."
In his eulogy Garnet said he couldn't bring himself to say that there's some comfort in Stumpff, Brabham and Carter dieing because they died doing something they loved. Brabham loved being an aviator and Stumpff loved caring for patients no matter the risk, but they were both meticulous about safety, Garnet said.
"Flying and the work we do isn't worth dieing for, but it gives a special quality of life that makes it worth taking the risk and countless people have benefited from their willingness to accept that risk," he said. "Lance, John and Cameron cared enough to enhance my life and the lives of countless others that crossed their paths. There is no measure to the infinite goodness that went down into the Prince William Sound."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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