Air Force pilot recalled at Vancouver service

Christopher Stover was killed in training mission

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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DID YOU KNOW?

• Flags in Washington were flown at half-staff over the weekend in memory of Air Force Capt. Christopher Stover. They are allowed to remain at half-staff until this morning.

The wreath at the front of the church featured a ribbon with four words: “That others may live.”

It was the motto of Capt. Christopher Stover’s rescue unit. But it was more than a motto: It was his mission.

Stover died while piloting a search-and-rescue helicopter during a Jan. 7 training flight along the English coast.

During Sunday’s memorial service in Vancouver, Rick Stover said he learned the practical application of that motto when he and his son visited a classroom at Harmony Elementary School, where Chris had been a student.

One of the Harmony students asked Chris how many rescue missions he’d flown during a 2012 deployment in Afghanistan. One hundred, Chris replied; 96 were for humans, and four were for military dogs, he added.

One hundred rescues is an impressive number, by any gauge. But later, Rick Stover said, he did a little math.

“I’m thinking he was there for 3½ months: Dude! That’s one a day!”

The 2004 Evergreen High School graduate piloted an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter. His crew was part of the U.S. Air Force’s 56th Rescue Squadron, based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. Capt. Sean Ruane, Tech. Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce also were killed in the low-altitude training mission over a nature reserve near Salthouse, England, about 50 miles from their base.

A physics major at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Capt. Stover was buried there on Jan. 27. So, Sunday’s memorial service at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in east Vancouver was a chance to celebrate a life and to share some cherished memories, Rick Stover said.

They included the day he was born.

“Chris was born on Jan. 1, 1986,” Rick said. “We didn’t get a tax deduction.”

He recalled father-and-son games of street hockey, including one bit of action that resulted in a black eye for Chris.

“My dad gave me this,” Chris would tell people.

“He left out the hockey part,” Rick noted.

Some of the people who attended the memorial didn’t know Stover, but they knew the work he did.

Mark Gaunt said he spent 22 years in an Air Force search-and-rescue unit, and likened it to a brotherhood.

“It’s a very tight community,” Gaunt said. “It’s like fire and police: When you lose one, it affects everybody.”

Steve Janzen represented the Civil Air Patrol’s Fort Vancouver Composite Squadron. It’s a Vancouver-based search-and-rescue unit, said Janzen.

The memorial service included a tribute from Gov. Jay Inslee. Schuyler Hoss, the governor’s representative in Southwest Washington, presented the airman’s family — parents Rick and Mary Stover, sister Kelly Stover, and wife Sarah — with a state flag.

Sarah Stover remembered her husband as a man whose precision as a pilot and scientist was not represented on the dance floor.

“What he lacked in skill, he made up for in abandon and enthusiasm,” Sarah Stover said.

A framed photograph of Chris and Sarah Stover was also at the front of the church, with a dog between them.

The breed is a matter of speculation, Rick Stover said, but you can certainly call him a rescue dog.

When Chris returned from Afghanistan, the memory of those four military dogs he’d rescued came home with him. Chris and Sarah decided to rescue a dog from the animal shelter.

In a move that only a physics major could propose, they named their dog Schrödinger. It was inspired by Nobel Prize winner Erwin Schrödinger, who thought up a scientific paradox that featured — and was named for — his cat.

And when Chris and Sarah added a cat to the household? They named it Schrödinger’s Cat, of course.