Plane crash: 'We lost two old-school biologists'

Plane crash: 'We lost two old-school biologists'
Dave Pitkin and Ray Bentley

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- While investigators probed the wreckage of a small plane crash that killed two government wildlife researchers Sunday west of Philomath, Ore., former co-workers and acquaintances grieved the men lost in the crash.

Search crews found the plane and the bodies of pilot-biologist Ray Bentley, 52, of Blodgett, Ore., and passenger David Sherwood Pitkin, 49, of Bandon, Ore., early Monday morning. The two were conducting a mid-winter survery of migratory birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I am not exaggerating when I say we lost two old-school biologists who were among the best of our best," Joe Pagel with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. | Read tributes to Bentley and Pitkin

The families have established a David Pitkin Memorial Fund at the West Coast Bank, Fish and Wildlife said. Contributions can be made at any branch. Please make checks out to The David Pitkin Memorial Fund and mail it to the West Coast headquarters office:

West Coast Bancorp
5335 Meadows Rd., Suite 201
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Fax: 503-684-0781

Tributes for Ray Bentley:

"Ray’s enthusiasm, self confidence, experience, and willingness to jump through the rigorous training hoops necessary to become a DMBM Pilot-Biologist led to his being hired.

"Ray and I flew many missions together, most during the May and July Waterfowl Breeding Ground Surveys in Montana and the western Dakotas. Spending 5 hours a day together in a plane and traveling together for weeks on end can be trying at times, but with Ray it was never dull and anything but trying.  He had such a wealth of experience in so many arenas that just mentioning something could lead to hours of interesting and learned discussions.  His interests were diverse; hunting in New Zealand, fishing in Alaska, sky diving, fisheries management, stories about his travels and adventures with his personal plane.  Even following his adventures in locating that special piece of property near, “but not too close to Corvallis”, that he wanted to share with his significant other Marcy was an adventure worthy of a novel.  He was a joy to travel and share a plane with.

"Professionally, Ray was a self starter….  He sought out work for other agencies during lull times in the Migratory Bird Program and always seemed to be busy.  He rose from a “Trainee” to the full performance level of his position in the minimum amount of time and was highly respected by his peers.  His work ethic reminded me of that old adage, “there he goes, I must hasten after him for I am his leader.”  His quiet confidence and cheerful demeanor was infectious.  We are so much the better for having known him and the Service and natural resources he loved so much are richer because of him.  He was my friend and I will miss him.” 

-- Jim Voelzer, Retired Pilot-Biologist

“Ray Bentley was a man truly dedicated to the conservation of wild things and wild places.  His love of nature was evident in all his conversations. Communication on anything from surveys to schedules to computer problems would include some comment on the color of the leaves, how many flying squirrels were using the screech owl boxes he had built, or whether there was enough food for the band-tailed pigeons this year.

"Ray’s skill at waterfowl identification was exceptional – both in-hand and from the air, and waterfowl surveys consumed large amounts of his time. Many duck banding crew members benefitted from his patient guidance on discerning subtle differences that would help identify ducks in hand.  He was equally interested and very skilled at landbird identification and was known to spend hours craning his neck at an unknown song high in the treetops.  Downtime on waterfowl surveys was often spent quietly walking through woods or along shorelines with binoculars in hand and a bird book in his pack.

"Ray spent 10 years leading summer banding crews in the Canadian prairies. He was a great crew leader – a good teacher, establishing rapport with local contacts, always observant of crew members’ strengths and considerate of their needs.  He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved telling jokes and stories.  Ray’s recounts of past surveys and various adventures could keep a crew laughing through the deepest mud, coldest rain and longest banding days encountered.  Above all else, every action on a survey was dictated by the welfare of the wildlife being handled.  He felt personal pain at the loss of any duck to predation or weather, and thought nothing of making personal sacrifice to secure the well-being of the resources he felt had been placed in his care.

"I did not know Ray outside of work, but always heard such peace and pleasure in his descriptions of following bear tracks along the river, watching deer browse in his apple orchard, or tracking grouse through a meadow.  Birding was a favorite pastime, along with fishing, waterfowl hunting, upland game bird hunting, bow hunting deer, tending his apple orchard, monitoring his trail camera and playing with his dog.  He knew how many hummingbirds returned each spring and where their nests were.  He loved taking photographs of scenery from his plane and loved sharing what he saw and what he knew, especially if he felt it would aid conservation in any way.

"Ray was a very private person. He preferred to spend most of his time quietly observing and interacting with nature while hunting and fishing. Ray chose a profession the required him to interact with the public in order to preserve the natural world that he loved so much.  Ray’s love and desire to protect wild species and their habitats shined through in all his personal interactions and reflected in his staggering schedule.  As a Region 1 pilot biologist, Ray surveyed waterfowl, shorebirds, grouse, eagles, sandhill cranes, spotted owls and marbled murrelets, as well as looked for non-avian wildlife such as suckers, doing mapping surveys and whatever other special requests he could accommodate.  Whatever the request was, Ray would make every effort to assist any way he could.  Between flying surveys, flying his personal plane, doing airplane maintenance, and all the pastimes he enjoyed, I don’t think Ray ever slept, and I know he spent as little time as possible indoors.  In his passing, the FWS and the community have suffered a huge loss. 

"Ray will be deeply missed.” 

-- Jenny Hoskins, USFWS Region 1 Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs

Tributes for Dave Pitkin:

“I can't recall meeting anyone who held more compassion for birds and their welfare.  He was also one of the hardest working people I have ever met, working tirelessly every weekday from before dawn, to being the last person leaving the office; he also worked, without pay, most weekends.  Another big part of Dave's personality was his sense of humor.  Dave had a great sense of humor, often self-effacing.  When he laughed he laughed loud and it was infectious to those around him.  He was also a seasoned naturalist and accomplished photographer; many Service publications regarding the Oregon Coast have his stellar images.  He was the go to guy for anything from waterfowl, peregrines, salamanders to bog plants and habitat restoration.  We will all miss Dave.”

-- Current and former staff from the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex

“Dave was hands-down one of the finest human beings and biologists we have met.  Both men were the type of guys who got things done, and quietly went about the business of protecting and managing wildlife.  The level of knowledge lost for Oregon, and the dedication, is colossal.  We are stunned and deeply saddened…. Next time you see an Aleutian Cackling Geese, you can thank Dave Pitkin and Ray Bentley.  I can't think of a better species that represents the contribution to wildlife that I know Dave had a direct hand in. May you guys fly free.” 

-- Dave Lauten and Kathy Castelein, Bandon, Ore.

“I am not exaggerating when I say we lost two old-school biologists who were among the best of our best. Dave was the best naturalist I have ever met-and I have known many; he had an amazing search image that could discern subtle aspects of wildlife that were lost on everyone else.  He could read band numbers on Aleutian Canada geese aluminum bands from quite a distance.  His sense of humor was fantastic, and many of my memories that I cherish include us laughing until the wee hours of the morning, or from the wee hours of the morning on through the day as we did something outside.  I lost one of my closest and dearest friends on Sunday.  I know that I, and many others internally and externally, will miss him incredibly.”

-- Joel Pagel, USFWS

Oregon Field Guide posted a blog in memory of Dave Pitkin, one of their favorite interviewees.