Two men from Palmer and Wasilla died after their plane crashed shortly after takeoff Monday evening in Whitehorse, according to Yukon officials.
Charles Eric Benson, 56 of Palmer, and Jeffrey Brian Babcock, 58 of Wasilla, were in a recently purchased 1952 Cessna 170 and were en route from Minnesota — where they bought the plane — on a multi-day trip back to Palmer, according to Yukon chief coroner Heather Jones.
Heading to Anchorage, they took off from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport around 5:30 p.m. Monday, according to Jones, and crashed shortly afterward.
“The wreckage was located approximately 600 meters off the end of the runway 14 in a treed area," Jones said in a prepared statement. "Both occupants were confirmed deceased at the scene.”
Officials believe Babcock was piloting the Cessna, which was registered to Benson, when the crash occurred.
The two men worked for the National Park Service in Alaska, said Peter Christian, a spokesman for the agency.
Babcock was in charge of the agency’s aviation program, overseeing about 15 pilots and 20 aircraft used to administer park lands across the state, Christian said.
Benson was the regional safety manager for the National Park Service in Alaska, said Christian.
“They were the backbone of our aviation and safety program,” said Christian, who said he considered both men to be colleagues and friends.
Their trip was not related to their duties at the Park Service, Christian said.
“To lose them both in one tragic, private accident is a shock to all of us,” Christian said. “They were known and loved by everyone in this region. It leaves a big hole for us personally and professionally.”
“Jeff and Eric were two of our very best and the National Park Service and Alaska Region have suffered a terrible loss,” Bert Frost, NPS Alaska regional director, said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Jeff and Eric and we are heartbroken.”
Babcock joined the Park Service after a “distinguished” 23-year career with the Alaska State Troopers followed by a seven-year stint as a K2 Aviation pilot, Christian said. He was a certified flight instructor, a dive master and a firearms instructor, among other accomplishments, Christian said.
Benson spent 25 years in the military, in the U.S. Air Force and Army, Christian said. He was a platoon leader, a UH-60 helicopter pilot and an aviation battalion executive with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Christian said.
“They were incredibly accomplished men and skillful pilots,” Christian said. “This is not what you’d expect.”
The Transportation and Safety Board of Canada arrived at the scene Tuesday and is investigating with assistance from the Yukon Coroner’s Service, Whitehorse Royal Canadian Mountain Police and Forensic Identification Service, according to chief coroner Jones.
Services for Babcock will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Colony Chapel, 9475 E. Silver Springs Circle in Palmer, and everyone is welcome to attend, Christian said. Privately held services for Benson are pending, according to Christian.