The remains of Marine Cpl. Skyler James of Petaluma will be returned home today from North Carolina, where the aviation mechanic was killed by a lightning strike last month while he worked on a tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.
The ashes of the 23-year-old Petaluma High School graduate are scheduled to arrive tonight on an Alaska Airlines flight into Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
An escort of sheriff’s deputies and motorcyclists with the American Legion and Patriot Guard Riders will accompany the Marine master sergeant, Bob Gohsler, who is carrying James’ remains from the New River Air Station in Jacksonville, N.C.
The motorcade will proceed from the airport near Windsor to the Coast Guard’s Training Center Petaluma in the Two Rock area, west of Petaluma. The expected route will follow Highway 101, State Route 116, Stony Point Road, Meacham Road, Pepper Road, Bodega Avenue and Tomales-Petaluma Road.
Family and friends of James will gather at the Coast Guard station at 10 a.m. Saturday for private military services and a celebration of the corporal’s life.
James grew up in Petaluma with his mother, Robin James, now a nurse at Petaluma Valley Hospital. He played football at Petaluma High and prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps in March 2014 studied at Santa Rosa Junior College.
He was trained as an aircraft mechanic and assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261. He was promoted to corporal in October.
On July 11, a lightning storm approached as James and other Marine mechanics worked on one of the squadron’s MV-22 Osprey, renowned for its capability to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter. The Marine Corps said that when a lightning storm moved within five miles of the air station, the personnel on the flight line were notified to leave.
Bethann McIntosh-King of Guerneville, who has been close to Skyler James all his life and considers him a grandson, said she was told that he directed the other mechanics to leave the Osprey they worked on. James and a second Marine were in the process of leaving when lightning struck the aircraft.
Both James and other Marine were rushed to a hospital. The second Marine was released following treatment, but doctors discovered that James was brain dead.
The Marine’s mother arranged to fly to his bedside at the UNC Medical Center as soon as she received the call from the Marine Corps. Soon the trip to North Carolina was made also by Skyler James’ wife in Petaluma, Callie Johnston, and by McIntosh-King and the Marine’s step-grandmother, Diane James of Petaluma.
McIntosh-King said dozens of fellow Marines came to the hospital and spoke glowingly of their friend and colleague.
“They all said he had a huge impact on their lives,” McIntosh-King said. The Marines spoke about James’ subtle sense of humor, his love of a good prank and his impressive work ethic.
“I heard over and over again that he was always the first to show up every morning,” McIntosh-King said. She said other Marine aviation mechanics told her and James’ relatives that the Petaluman made their work fun.
The Marine’s family members agreed that he would want his vital organs donated to people in need of transplants. Eight organs went to patients on waiting lists.