The first time Dick Stoops jumped from an airplane in the Air Force, he was terrified.
“You’re about 50 percent sure you’re going to die,” Stoops said. “But once I was out that door and that canopy opened, I knew why I was there. I was hooked.”
Stoops talks about the joy of free fall jumping, which is different from static line jumping, in which the parachute opens automatically by a line attached to the aircraft. He calls free fall “the thrill of knowing your life depends on what you do; there’s no comparison to that.”
Stoops never lost his passion for flight, even decades later — even after retirement.
Never miss a local story.
He has worked trips for Remote Area Medical — a Tennessee-based organization that provides care to people in remote areas and during natural disasters — where he held on to a low-flying pilot’s seat to throw emergency food out of a low-flying plane in Haiti. In Guyana he spent 14 days hacking through the brush to connect villages while his wife Judy, a former nurse, was medical officer.
Stoops began his volunteer career by organizing a parachute jump into an isolated region of East Tennessee to aid a free medical clinic behind held by Remote Area Medical.
In Haiti in 2010, Stoops and other Remote Area Medical volunteers worked with Air Mobile Ministries to help deliver more than 30,000 meals to isolated Hurricane Matthew victims. The organization also works inside the United States, treating uninsured and underinsured people in areas such as Wise County, Va.
On Facebook, a commenter referred to Stoops’ volunteer career as turning his retirement “into an extended good deed, and the world is better for it.”
For his efforts, Stoops received one of the 2017 Endeavor Awards, a national program that recognizes volunteer pilots and promotes the idea that aviation benefits communities.
At the May ceremony in Los Angeles, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, captain during the “Miracle on the Hudson” and now the CEO of Safety Reliability Methods, was given the Inspiration Award at the Endeavor Awards.
The “Miracle on the Hudson” resulted from a flight piloted by Sullenberger on Jan. 15, 2009, that landed in the Hudson River off lower Manhattan after birds knocked out both engines. Sullenberger’s decision to land in the river saved lives on the ground as well as the 155 passengers.
Stoops and Sullenberger were honored along with volunteer pilot Jeff Bennett of Big Pine Key, Fla., who has flown rescue missions since 2008 for animals that escaped euthanasia at high-kill shelters. The animals are flown either to new homes or no-kill shelters.
Stoops is not alone in his volunteer efforts. He is often accompanied by his wife, Judy, 74. The two met skydiving at a business that Stoops ran. Stoops said that his wife, a former nurse at Central Baptist Hospital (now Baptist Health Lexington) deserves credit for his award: “She has done everything I have done except fly the plane.”
Born in Springfield, Ill., Stoops graduated from high school at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines (his father was in the Air Force). He then joined the Air Force, but his plane jump training was truncated by a 1958 crisis in Lebanon. Stoops served in Vietnam, as a fire patrol pilot for the Kentucky Division of Forestry and operated a sport parachute center in Richmond for 20 years.
He knew perhaps the most infamous of all Kentucky parachutists: Drew Thornton, the Lexington drug smuggler who died in Tennessee in 1985 after being caught in his parachute while jumping from his auto-piloted Cessna 404 with approximately 40 kilos of cocaine.
“He was a true thrill-seeker, but he was a good jumper,” Thornton said.
In its nomination of Stoops for the Endeavor award, Remote Area Medical praised Stoops’ willingness to make “lifesaving medevac flights into small villages using short, rough, challenging airstrips” as well as his willingness to serve outside the cockpit, noting his 14 days in the Guyana rainforest hacking a trail to connect two isolated villages and improve their access to medical care.
In 2016, he parachuted into Guyana three times, into Haiti once. He has also accompanied Remote Area Medical teams to hurricanes Katrina and Rita as volunteer coordinator and logistics manager as well as accompanying disaster teams to Haiti following an earthquake to help construct an airstrip that allowed access to victims during a cholera epidemic. Stoops has also assisted with logistics and security at more than 25 Remote Area Medical clinics in the United States.
And Stoops and his wife are determined to remain active.
“I’ll probably work with Guyana as long as possible,” Stoops said.