Permafrost scientist and military pilot among 4 killed in helicopter crash on Alaska’s North Slope

Last week’s helicopter crash on Alaska’s North Slope took the lives of a permafrost expert from the Netherlands, a pilot who recently transitioned from the military to fly charters and two other scientists conducting fieldwork.

Ronald Daanen, 51, and Justin Germann, 27, both from Fairbanks; Tori Moore, 26, of South Bend, Indiana; and pilot Bernard “Tony” Higdon, 48, of North Pole, perished last week when the 1996 Bell 206 helicopter they were in crashed into a lake while they were on a science mission.

The passengers were employees of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, working in the Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys.

Alaska search and rescue divers Sunday recovered the bodies from the sunken wreckage of the aircraft, which went down in a shallow lake about 50 miles south of Utqiagvik. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.

Colleagues of Daanen, a native of the Netherlands, said he was known as “MacGyver” because he could quickly fix anything that went wrong, whether a generator or a broken tent pole.

“He’s such a good-natured guy, he’s kind, he’s caring, he’s good-humored,” said Howie Epstein, a professor in environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. During summer fieldwork, they studied permafrost and changes in Arctic tundra in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

When working on the North Slope, Daanen brought his homemade gin flavored with spruce tips, Epstein said. On a tiny island in Siberia, Daanen walked in with a chunk of gouda cheese the size of a curling stone, which they ate from at every meal for a week.


Daanen and his wife, Ina Timling, also competed in the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks. They created elaborate sculptures that usually had a science theme, using them as an opportunity to teach people about permafrost and Arctic landscapes, said Anna Liljedahl, an associate scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center and an affiliate professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“We’ve lost an amazing friend and colleague,” she said of Daanen, who was a geologist for the state.

Permafrost, frozen ground and water were key components of his work, but she said he was a brilliant scientist who had wide and varied interests.

Germann was a state hydrologist with degrees from the University of North Dakota. He paid his way through college by joining the North Dakota National Guard and had to have his parents sign off because he was just a few months shy of his 18th birthday when he joined.

“He’s determined, a young man who chased his dream and accomplished a lot in his life,” said his mother, Karla Germann.

He completed an internship in Alaska and immediately made plans to return.

“I don’t think he was ever coming back to southwest North Dakota. That was his dream to be there and kayak and just hike and ride a bike in the snow, which is beyond crazy to me,” she said.

The family had planned to visit Germann in Alaska in September but instead will travel this week to Fairbanks, where they are planning an informal memorial. His mother has been comforted by her son’s Alaska friends, who reached out to his family after his death.

“He had a lot of amazing friends up there, and we can’t wait to meet them,” she said.

Moore was a 2019 graduate from Indiana with a degree in geological and earth sciences. She wrote on her LinkedIn page that she was “interested in biogeochemistry, planetary science, environmental science.”

Her family declined to comment on her death.

Higdon became a full-time pilot in November, going to work for Maritime Helicopters. He had over 2,000 hours combined while flying Bell 206, Bell 407 and Eurocopter EC145 helicopters.

In a statement, the company praised Higdon: “We all knew Tony as the consummate professional and a skilled pilot. He will be greatly missed.”

He previously worked in different capacities at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks after serving more than 13 years as a military police officer with the Marine Corps.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Higdon’s family were unsuccessful.


AP researchers Jennifer Farrar and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Mark Thiessen, Associated Press

Mark Thiessen is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Anchorage.