Death of two National Park Aviation Professionals

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National Park Service mourns the loss of two employees in private airplane crash

Aviation can and should be (?) impersonal

Personal Experience can add an edge to Risk Analysis 

Here is a compelling accident to remind us of the human element 

For much of the time, aviation safety is an abstract concept; we analyze numbers and make risk analyses. For some, that mental exercise is made with an image of a someone whose death was connected somehow to you. That sadness may cause some to be more exacting in making judgments; for others, the emotion may affect your assessment. Objectivity is an important attribute, but “feeling the pain” may result in greater aversion to risk.

Based on that observation, the below story about two highly qualified National Park Service aviators would serve as a useful real world example with which we can relate. The story is even more compelling in that there is no apparent reason for this tragedy.

Two Alaskans flying from Whitehorse to Anchorage were killed in a plane crash in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, according to the Yukon Coroner.

Chris Krepski with the TSB said the Cessna 170B crashed at about 5:30 p.m. local time. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff about 2,000 feet south of the runway at the Whitehorse international airport.

Tuesday afternoon, Heather Jones, the Chief Coroner for Yukon, identified the plane’s two occupants as Charles Eric Benson, 56, of Palmer, and Jeffrey Brian Babcock, 58, of Wasilla. Benson owned the plane, but Jones said it appears that Babcock was flying the plane at the time.

Jones said in a release that investigators found that the two men’s journey had begun on Saturday, May 25 in Minnesota, where the plane was purchased. The pair’s most recent stop before Whitehorse was Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, before arriving in Whitehorse at 4:10 p.m. Monday. The plane took off, bound for Anchorage, just over an hour later.

The plane crashed in a forested area, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said, and caught fire after the crash.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent a two-person investigative team to the crash site to learn more about what went wrong. Krepski said Tuesday afternoon that the investigators were still on site.

Alaska State Troopers posted to their Facebook page Tuesday afternoon that Babcock was a retired Alaska Wildlife Trooper Captain. Troopers wrote that Babcock retired from the Department of Public Safety in 2004.


The National Park Services said in a release Tuesday evening that both Babcock and Benson were current NPS employees, though they weren’t working at the time of the crash.

The two were ferrying the privately-owned plane from the Lower 48 to Anchorage, the agency wrote. Babcock was the NPS Alaska Region Aviation manager, and Benson was the NPS Alaska Region Safety Manager.

“Jeff and Eric were two of our very best and the National Park Service and Alaska Region have suffered a terrible loss,” said Bert Frost, NPS Alaska Regional Director in the release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Jeff and Eric and we are heartbroken.

The Park Service wrote that in addition to his Law Enforcement experience, Babcock had flown for seven years with an aviation company.

Benson served in the U.S. Air Force and the Army, according to the National Park Service, for a total of 26 years.

The National Park Service said a service for Babcock would be held Saturday, June 1 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Colony Chapel at 9475 East Silver Springs Cir. in Palmer. The service will start at 11:00 and is open to anyone. Services have not yet been announced for Benson.




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