Ralph Tingey

Ralph Tingey
Ridgway, Colorado,
March 31
Retired Associate Regional Director of Operations and Resources, National Park Service, Alaska; now living at the base of the San Juan mountains in Ridgway, Colorado.


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MARCH 17, 2010 12:16PM

My Friend Jeff Falls From the Sky

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Jeff Bennett

Daryl called this morning, "Have you heard the bad news?"  "No", I answered...   "Jeff Bennett was killed yesterday.  The railroad found his ultralight next to the tracks north of Eklutna."  I reeled. 

I've seen a lot of death in my life, maybe too much.  All my adult life I worked for the National Park Service, rescuing people off mountains, out of rivers, burning buildings, automobile and aircraft wrecks.  Many of my friends have been killed in mountains and rivers all over the world; their names would fill pages, and their fascinating and brilliant lives do fill volumes.  You'd think I'd be inured to death by now, but it is not so; it is harder with every one.

Jeff and his family lived up Peters Creek about a mile from my home.  His son went to school with my daughter.  Jeff worked in the GIS division of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Park Service; I was the Associate Regional Director, so I saw him almost daily at work.  I loved to go down and visit with him in GIS; he would trace routes on maps, showing me fascinating places to explore, dreaming of the next big adventure he had planned. 

But the thing that bonded us was a love of the outdoors.  I'm sure Jeff was the finest Telemark skier I knew.  When it was an extreme powder day, I would see him in the mountains; all the best telemarkers knew where the best snow was and magically appeared after a big dump of champagne powder.  His enthusiasm always set me dreaming of distant lands, great hikes, climbs, and river trips.  He was so full of life.

As a surveyor and map maker, entering the most minute details on maps for years at a time, he was meticulous.  This attention to detail was one of the traits that made him such a superb athlete.  But Jeff's main passion had been hang-gliding, then parapenting, and finally his ultralight aircraft, an experimental model. 

On any given Sunday I would look up at "Baldy", the hill above Eagle River north of Anchorage and watch the parapenters floating like huge kites on the thermals with the snowy Chugach mountains framing the picture.  I envied them; I'm a climber, not a careful detail-oriented guy.  I would think of Jeff, knowing he was one of those brilliant sails soaring above me.  I saw Jeff and his girlfriend at the opera "Eugene Onegin" just a month ago.  He was so vibrant and alive,  talking about skiing, life, and flying the length of the Yukon River.  Whenever I see those colorful wings gliding across the sky I will think of him.

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flying, people, friends, death, sports

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I'm so sorry for your loss, Ralph. Thank you for telling Jeff's story.
i've typed and deleted this comment four times. it's so hard to say anything that isn't trite. but you wrote a brilliant tribute to your friend, ralph. and i'm so sorry he's gone.
There are no words - I am so sorry for your loss - excellent tribute to an excellent adventurer. Raising a glass to his current new journey.
Thanks to all of you for the heartfelt comments!
Wonderful memoir or tribute to a friend, beautiful photo also, his face towards the sun, wind in his hair. Salute to Jeff. And love and thoughts to you Ralph.
Terribly sad and tremendous loss to those who loved this amazing man. So sorry, Ralph, for your loss of such a vibrant friend and family man. Lovely tribute to Jeff. You did him proud.
Oh man, sorry to hear this. When I saw that headline I was expecting a happy post about sky jumping or something.

I understand the urge to take to the sky though I've not had the courage to try it yet. Those of us who love our dangerous sports are especially saddened when they take the life of our fellow travelers.

RIP Jeff.
Sorry that you lost yet another friend Ralph, life is a high risk activity, and your buddy sure knew how to live. I'll tip a glass to Jeff tonight as we celebrate St. Patricks.
Rita & Cathy, thanks so much for commenting! I always enjoy it when you stop by.
Cap'n, yes, I've always loved running with the high risk crowd, but it does have it's downside.
Ablonde, What a great idea! Although Bennett is a Scottish name, I'm sure a little Irish ale would be apt.
Yes Cindy, some of Jeff's friends have said that here was a man who truly died doing what he loved best, although it still makes me sad.
I am VERY sorry about your loss. I have experienced significant loss in my life -- that's just what happens if you live a long time, but I do find they are still present and an important part of my life. It is hard to find the proper words, but your tribute to him gave me a real glimpse of what he is like, and I am saddened too by his loss.
I am saddened to read of the death of this active and accomplished man, who was obviously also a good friend. Yours is a touching eulogy, Ralph.
Oh Ralph, what a lovely tribute to your friend. As a retired air traffic controller, I've heard of many who crossed over doing what they loved. Still, I know they weren't planning on it at the time! Alaska poses so many risks to everyone who uses the sky - yet at the same time there are more folks using your skies daily than in the lower 48.

And - what a wonderful photo you have of him. Rated.
Hello Ralph

By chance I have been reading your blog and learned about the loss of our fried Jeff. I used to fly with Jeff back in the 80's when he and I both lived in Utah. After that I lived in various countries and lost contact with Jeff.

I don't want to write info here which might be too privat and would appreciate if you could write back to me to rgx at orange.fr