BAKER CITY, Ore — On Sept. 22, Ricky Fulton died after his air tanker plane crashed just outside of Emmett. Now, the pilot is being remembered for rescuing a litter of abandoned kittens and caring for them.
Fulton was piloting a T-857 and was in an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. This was his first year flying for Aero S.E.A.T. Inc., an aerial wildfire service company based in Colorado, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.
Over the summer, Vale Air Attack Officer Mike Spelman brought five kittens to work, asking for advice after their mother failed to come home one day. Officials said while everyone there chipped in and helped take care of the kittens, it became clear Fulton was their favorite.
“Ricky adored them, and they adored Ricky,” Mary LaMoy, a pilot who works for Spur Aviation out of Twin Falls, ID, said in a release. “They would climb up his pantlegs and hang on his neck.”
The smallest kitten of the litter was named Runty but Fulton gave them the nickname of Piglet after Runty finally began eating canned food.
“We all called him the Kitty Whisperer,” LaMoy said. “He’d look embarrassed, but I think he really loved it.”
LaMoy adopted Runty but renamed them Ricky after Fulton's fatal crash. Two other kittens were adopted by a local veterinarian.
The Simply Cats Adoption Center in Boise is taking in the other two kittens.
"His care for all around him, human as well as feline. Even temperament, dry sense of humor and addiction to Coke floats endeared him to everyone," LaMoy said. “You meet so many different personalities and types of people working at a tanker base, somebody who’s just well-regarded by everybody, that’s pretty cool.”
Fulton was dropping retardant over the Schill Fire in southern Idaho on Tuesday when his plane went down. The fire burned about 25 acres before being contained.
Officials have not released whether mechanical issues or other problems contributed to the crash. The pilot was the only person in the single-engine aircraft, according to the Gem County Sheriff's Office.
The tanker plane crash remains under investigation.
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