Thursday, February 15, 2007

Keith Yoakum killed in helicopter crash

HEMET, Calif. - Army pilot Keith Yoakum died doing what he loved to do - fly aircraft.

"He was one of those kids who all he wanted to do was fly. It was his passion. He lived to fly," said Lloyd Cliff of Hemet-Ryan Aviation, where Yoakum was restoring a 1946 Fairchild single-engine military trainer.

Yoakum, a 41-year-old Army chief warrant officer, was killed Feb. 2 in Taji, Iraq, when the Apache helicopter he was in was forced down.

"He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. He will be missed," Cliff said, noting Yoakum got his pilot license at the airport in the 1980s and became a flight instructor.

Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. Defrenn, 34, of Barnwell, S.C., was also killed. The soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Cavalry Regiment, 1st Division, at Fort Hood, Texas.

Yoakum was the fifth Hemet High School graduate to die in Iraq since 2004.

"We're saddened by the loss of another Hemet High grad," Principal Bill Black said. "It leaves us speechless. It's an awful lot for a small community ... it's more than our fair share."

Yoakum moved to Alabama with his wife, Kelly, and their two children, a few years ago. His two brothers were finishing a landing strip there, where Yoakum planned to fly the Fairchild plane when he returned from the war.

But he kept in touch with his Riverside County friends.

Cliff said Hemet-Ryan Aviation considered Yoakum "one of the Hemet-Ryan Family" and the company always kept track of him, even while he was in Iraq.

From the San Jose Mercury News