AJ Blain, 27, passed away doing one of the things he loved the most, flying helicopters. He was born April Fool’s Day, 1986, in Billings. The date couldn’t have been more appropriate; AJ loved practical jokes.
He was born to Al and Bobbi Blain, and as soon as he was brought home from the hospital he started talking and reading the Thrifty Nickel in case there might be a deal to be had. He loved to wheel and deal and learned the craft from both of his grandfathers. As a kid, AJ attended Lockwood School, Blue Creek School, Riverside Middle School and graduated from Billings Senior High in 2004. Starting at a somewhat questionably young age, but in step with Blain style, AJ’s dad, grandpa and uncles all spent time teaching AJ to fly. AJ soloed in a Piper Supercub shortly after his 12th birthday, and from there graduated to helicopters and multi-engine airplanes.
The wheeling and dealing continued throughout high school, and often clogged his mother’s driveway with cars he bought at the local auto auction. After graduating from high school, AJ attended one semester at Montana State University, before the family business, Billings Flying Service, was called to help with tsunami relief work in Indonesia. Expecting AJ to be headed back for his spring semester, his mother was surprised to find the contents of his dorm room abandoned on her front porch, where he told her he was going to Indonesia to help. AJ spent several weeks flying helicopters, moving water, food and medical supplies. On his final day in Indonesia, AJ’s dad noticed a local villager wearing a pair of his shoes. He asked AJ if his shoes had been stolen, and AJ reported he had given them to his new friend.
AJ transferred to the University of Montana, where he excelled at being a mediocre student and collecting friends from all walks of life. AJ took part in Bible studies, and was a member of New Hope Church. AJ developed lifelong friendships during these years, and even picked out a husband for his sister, which only cost him 20 cows. He graduated from UM with a finance degree. AJ returned to Billings, where he began to work for Billings Flying Service flying helicopters and buying and selling aircraft. His love and understanding for people shone through in his expert negotiating skills, and successful business endeavors. AJ was well on his way to successfully operating his own company, which he hoped to run someday with his best friend and little brother, Bridger, who is a talented pilot in his own right.
In June of 2012, AJ took Steve Toepfer for a helicopter ride. Steve called AJ back and asked if he would take his daughter, Carly, on a date. AJ’s family knew he had fallen hard when he reported back to them that he thought he would be able to “put this deal together.” AJ proposed on Christmas Eve last year, and he and his lovely Carly were married on May 18, 2013. AJ’s family has never seen him happier or more in love than the time he has spent with Carly, and will always be grateful to her for giving him the best year of his life.
He loved to play hard with his friends and family, and was always recruiting people for outrageous adventures. He was an avid water skier, snowmobiler and skier. AJ was a member at Harvest Church and his faith was as sincere and authentic as any you have ever seen. He showed it best by relentlessly pursuing meaningful relationships with others. AJ challenged himself to reflect Christ by confronting unhealthy relational patterns, and knew that emotional and spiritual growth came from hard work, which he committed himself to pursue. This was evident in his participation in John Townsend’s Leadership Coaching Program, which provided AJ with a group of men who loved and challenged him, and whom he loved dearly. AJ also adored and loved a local group of guys, who he was in a Bible study with. Perhaps some of AJ’s greatest support and adventures came from his dad’s friends, who provided him with encouragement, advice and support through all times in his life. AJ exemplified a generous heart with his time and money, and loved to buy people breakfast at the Muzzleloader Café.
AJ is survived by the love of his life, Carly Jane Blain; his mother and father, Al and Bobbi; little sister, Erin (McLaine) Heringer; and younger brother, Bridger; mother- and father-in-law, Steve and Jen Toepfer; brothers-in-law, Nick and Wiley Toepfer; his grandmothers, Shirley Briner and Aldonna Blain; uncles, Gary (Vickie) Blain, Robert (Julie) Blain; aunts, Flori (Dan) Meyer, Monty (Holly) Christensen, Pam (Rick) Damron; cousins, Jared, Travis, Josh, Shawn, Jonathan, Daniel, TJ, Dani, Dillon, Ali, Sydney, Blayne, Ashli and Marin.
A memorial service celebrating AJ’s life will be held at Faith Chapel in the main sanctuary on Tuesday, July 23, at 10:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the AJ Blain Memorial Fund, Care of First Interstate Bank, PO Box 30918, Billings, MT 59116. Donations will be utilized to further his passion and commitment to leadership training and YoungLife Billings.
June 13, 1959 ~October 7, 2017
Bryan James Burr died in an unfortunate tragedy on October 7, 2017. As the first of James and Carole Burr's nine children, he was born on June 13, 1959 in Santa Monica, California. He grew up in Indian Hills in Provo. He would often say that the time he spent attending Provo High School was a highlight of his life. It's easy to understand why, since during high school he started his relationship with his high school sweetheart, Natalie DeWolf. They were married April 15, 1978.
It is often said that life is a journey and not a destination. For Bryan, the consummate man of action, life was about the destinations. After all, it is in life's destinations where most action is concentrated. Shortly after marrying Natalie, they started a family, which grew until they had six children and eighteen grandchildren. They raised their family in the cities of Orem and Alpine, where Bryan employed his natural talent for leadership in service to his community and to his faith. Bryan earned a business degree from Brigham Young University; then he soon followed in the footsteps of a long line of enterprising entrepreneurs in his family and started a helicopter company in 1992. Through sweat, and blood, and years of grinding work he built a successful business that provided well for his family and employees. Everyone who has ever worked alongside Bryan Burr knows when he showed up, the job got done and got done right.
For those fortunate enough to spend time with Bryan during life's journeys - whether mountain biking through the foothills of Alpine, driving across the West in a pickup truck, soaring above the mountains in a plane, or simply sitting at the table for Sunday dinner - they knew he was a man who thought profoundly, laughed loudly, loved unconditionally, and only cultivated friendships meaningfully. He had an unflinching love for life and a strong, abiding testimony of Jesus Christ.
His loss is unfathomable for those who loved him most, and his legacy is unforgettable for those who knew him.
William "Bart" Colantuono
12-14-59 to 09-16-2013
Words cannot express the grief that all of us are experiencing. On September 16, 2013 William “Bart” Colantuano spent his final moments doing what he loved in a place he felt most at home; the cockpit of his helicopter. Bart was killed in a tragic helicopter accident while heli-logging near Detroit Lake, OR. He was Chief Pilot for R&R Conner Aviation, LLC for many years and was very instrumental in our growth and success. Bart spent numerous hours of his own time selfishly instructing young pilots and sharing his skills with them as they built their careers in the aviation world. He is a legend in our industry and we considered him a dear friend and a very valuable member of our team.
Bart Colantuono was one of a kind, a gentle soul who touched everyone who had the privilege of meeting him. Bart loved living life on the edge and filled with adventure. Many of us at R&R envied his life of kayaking and diving in Florida while his friends and family in Florida romanced about his “commute” to the Northwest for work and additional adventure. His laugh was infectious and his heart was huge; he was an amazing man, talented pilot, great friend and loving father. Our hearts go out to his family, especially his children who lost their father much too soon. RIP our dear friend, may you soar higher than you ever have; Capt Bart you will always be in our hearts.
An extraordinary man died last week: On March 8, 2019, Joshua Meriah Tripp, 44, went down with his logging helicopter near Port Angeles, Washington. Josh was tireless, compassionate, and magnetic. He gave incredible hugs that wrapped you up in warmth. He listened in a way that made people feel seen. He never hesitated to tell someone how much he loved them.
Born at the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, on Aug. 28, 1974, Josh grew up in the Bitterroot Valley. He attended Stevensville Schools and graduated in 1992.
Josh was known for his entrepreneurial spirit and started a lawn mowing business when he was eight years old. He became the youngest person to receive a loan from First State Bank, leveraging the funds to buy a four-wheeler to expand his paper route. As a teenager, Josh built houses. He started a power washing business. After returning from his mission with the LDS Church in San Diego, he bought a logging truck from his dad and ran a successful operation for many years. Later, he became a highly-respected seasonal flood insurance claims adjuster, a position he held in addition to running his own self-loader logging truck company, raising young kids, and, when a conversation with a fellow logger/pilot piqued his interest, learning to fly.
A skilled pilot and inspiring leader, Josh flew a logging helicopter for R&R Conner Aviation of Darby, Montana, and became its chief pilot in 2013. Last July, Josh proudly took flight in his own helicopter as the founder and president of Iron Eagle Helicopter. He had realized his dream and was doing what he loved when he died.
Josh leaves behind the love of his life, Rachelle, and six strong, capable and kind children: Kyleigh, 23, Eylissa, 21, Myles, 19, Ayden, 16, Ellyana, 14, and Brayden, 13. Josh was a devoted father, brother and son. He taught his kids about the value of family, a strong work ethic, respecting others and how to play. Whether it was hunting, fishing, or swimming with dolphins on a family trip to Mexico, Josh knew how to take a step back and truly enjoy the moment together. His last few years, spent with Rachelle, his children and his family, were the happiest of his life.
Josh is preceded in death by grandparents Harry and Betty Tripp; Harold and Claire Johnston, and his Aunt Diane Hamm. He is survived by his wife and children; parents Darrell and Lorie Tripp, sister Alesia Randall and brother-in-law Todd, brother Chad Tripp and sister-in-law Brionn, niece Bailee, nephews Evan, Ryan, Chase and Shea, and the many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who will miss him, every day.