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‘He loved the North’: Father remembers engineer killed in helicopter crash

Benton Davie almost wasn’t going to be a part of the polar bear survey trip that resulted in a fatal helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, last weekend.

“We actually didn’t think he’d be included,” said Benton’s father, Jeff Davie. “If I understand things correctly, one of the biologists wasn’t able to make it.” 

As a result, his son, a 30-year-old helicopter engineer, was able to take the spot instead. 

“They did a test run, they went up there, it was Benton that spotted the first three or four polar bears,” said Jeff. “They all had a good giggle about that and they were apparently glad to include him. I know he would have been thrilled.” 

Great Slave Helicopters confirmed Monday morning an AS350-B3 aircraft had crashed about 22 kilometres southwest of Resolute Bay — killing all three passengers.

One of the victims was Markus Dyck, a leading Canadian polar bear scientist. A second flight crew member who also died has not been identified yet.

“We got a call 8 o’clock Sunday night that there had been a helicopter incident,” Jeff told CBC News on Friday, from his business in Kaslo, B.C. “For five excruciating hours we waited …  and then we got the worst phone call we’ve ever had.”

A love of the North, and its wildlife

Something that is bringing the family peace, Jeff said, is how much Benton loved the North. 

“He loved the rugged winters and the long summer days. He was part of the community, for sure,” he explained. “He loved his job and the fact that he was able to go on some explorations with biologists, tagging the caribou and the polar bears. That’s his second love.”

benton davie 2
Benton Davie, middle, his younger brother Spencer Davie, left, and his cousin Kelsey Richinger, right. Benton called Yellowknife home for a decade, before he and two other people were killed in a helicopter crash last weekend. (Submitted by Jeff Davie)

Just before the trip to observe the Lancaster Sound polar bear population, the engineer had been part of a trip to research caribou, said his dad.

“He called home and proudly bragged he got kicked in the head by a caribou. He believed he might be the only engineer that ever got kicked in the head by a caribou and carried on with his job,” he said, adding that it had only been a  glancing blow. 

Although Jeff and his wife, Monica Davie (née Richinger), raised Benton and his two younger brothers in Kaslo, B.C., he said Monica would occasionally bring the boys to Yellowknife — where she grew up — for hockey camps.

Benton moved to Yellowknife when he was 20 years old, and was first hired by Great Slave Helicopters to work in their receiving and purchasing department, his father said.

The company “obviously saw something in him,” because after Benton quit that job he was promoted to an engineer position within the business and was an apprentice for four years.

“They took a chance on him, and he was very appreciative,” said his dad. “He was very very loyal to Great Slave Helicopters. He loved the coworkers, he loved working for the company, and more importantly, he loved the job.” 

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. On Thursday, the agency said in a news release it is deploying a team of investigators to gather information and assess the incident. 

The TSB, an independent agency, looks into incidents involving air, marine, pipeline and rail transportation with the aim to advance transportation safety. It does not assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

Jeff said the bodies are being sent for an autopsy in Ottawa first, and that the family hasn’t made funeral arrangements yet. He’s not sure what arrangements they can make, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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