Helicopter pilot remembered at Saturday funeral

by: Deborah Horne Updated:

SEATTLE - The pain of this day was clearly etched on the faces of the mourners but none more than the widow of Gary Pfitzner.  Belen Castellano's face was stained with tears, heavy with sorrow.  Indeed, so many of those who came were there to comfort her.

"His wife is a great lady," said Carla Cedeira, who grew up with Castellano in the same Spanish city.  "They have beautiful kids. It's really tough for them. And I think just showing support not only for them but for the community."

Pfitzner's very public death felt like a community tragedy.  The helicopter he was flying for KOMO TV fell to earth Tuesday, moments after he refueled on the station's roof.  He and retired KOMO TV photographer Bill Strothman died on impact.

"My son called me and he said, 'Dad, you better turn on the TV,'" said longtime KIRO TV helicopter pilot Clark Stahl, his voice cracking.

Stahl flew alongside Pfitzner for years, members of a professional family.

"When we're out over a scene we're literally trusting each other with our lives," said Stahl. "And so we were forced to, as though it wouldn't happen anyway, we were forced to form this bond."

A bond Pfitzner shared with KIRO photographers, too, when he flew with the television station as backup pilot.

"Any chance he could get, no matter who it was for," said longtime KIRO photographer Tom Matsuzawa, "He would just jump in the right seat and take off."

The priest told those assembled that Pfitzner's sons described him as a gentle man with a great sense of humor, a man who absolutely loved to fly.

"He was as close to heaven as you could get when he's up there," said Matsuzawa.

A funeral service for photographer Bill Strothman is planned for next Saturday.