Wes Lematta, founder and chairman of the board of Aurora, Ore.-based Columbia Helicopters, died on Dec. 24 in Vancouver, Wash. He was 82. According to company spokesman Dan Sweet, Lematta died of complications from bladder cancer, which was first diagnosed 25 years ago. Around 300 people were present at a private family service on Jan. 9 in Vancouver, with more than 800 showing up for a public “Celebration of Life” service later that day, which featured a flyover of a group of Columbia 234 Chinook and Vertol 107-II helicopters. Columbia acquired the type certificates for the Boeing-designed Model 234 and Boeing/Kawasaki Vertol 107-II in 2006, and the production certificates in fall 2009.
|Columbia helicopters fly overhead during a Jan. 9 service celebrating the life of company founder Wes Lematta. Photo by Mark Keeler|
Lematta started Columbia Helicopters in 1957 with a small helicopter, and the company has grown to more than 600 employees, establishing itself as one of the world’s largest commercial heavy-lift helicopter operators. “We started by selling rides at country fairs… Now [we offer] heavy lifting services, anytime, anywhere,” the company’s website states.
Along with his wife, Nancy, Lematta has received recognition for his philanthropic work in Oregon and Washington. He is a recipient of the Helicopter Association International’s Honorary Lifetime Achievement award and the Lawrence D. Bell Memorial award for leadership.
“There is no one I know who better embodied the spirit of a pioneer in helicopter aviation than Wes,” says Columbia President Mike Fahey. “Wes had a vision that helicopters were capable of so much more than carrying passengers, so he created the heavy-lift helicopter industry through determination, skill, and strength of character,” he adds.
Donations in honor of Lematta can be sent to: Parkinson’s research through Providence Portland Medical Foundation at 4805 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR 97213; the “I Have A Dream” scholarship program at the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington at 1053 Officers Row, Vancouver, WA 98661; or a charity of your choice. Lematta’s wife, two sons and two daughters survive him.