Tears were shed and relatives held each other at a celebration of life for two Air Tindi pilots on Friday.
Will Hayworth and Zach McKillop died after their King Air 200 crashed on January 30 during a flight from Yellowknife to Whatì.
“Look around this room. This is a hangar, but it’s not a hangar today,” said a clearly emotional Air Tindi president, Alasdair Martin, in front of more than 300 people at Air Tindi’s airport location on Bristol Avenue.
“It was important to have this here, just to thank everyone for everything they’ve done,” said Martin. “Thanks, everyone, for coming. It really does make a difference.”
Martin read out portions of a letter he received from Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie: “The pilots who fly into our communities every day to connect us to the rest of the world should never be underestimated.”
Mackenzie wrote: “We see young pilots in our communities on a daily basis and, unfortunately, do not take the opportunity often enough to thank them for the work they do and the great difference they make to all of our lives.”
Martin thanked the Royal Canadian Air Force and the crew of a Hercules aircraft which dropped search-and-rescue technicians in the vicinity of the crash site.
“The conditions those guys went through at night – deep, deep snow – they travelled a long way on foot to get there, so thanks very much to those guys,” he said.
Hayworth’s sister-in-law, Amber Thelen, recalled his move to Yellowknife in June 2011. His longtime partner, Audrey Paquette, joined him a few months later.
“Yellowknife was intended as a temporary relocation, but they both fell in love with the North,” said Thelen. “Will loved flying the King Air, he loved meeting new people and making people feel comfortable.
“Will was loved by many and will be missed terribly. He leaves behind many broken hearts.”
McKillop’s younger sister, Lindsay, noted the 28-year-old pilot died on his birthday.
“He was unexpectedly taken from us far too soon,” she said. “Zachary William McKillop, you were truly one of a kind. As I look out into this crowd of people, it is so clear you have touched more lives than you ever knew possible.”
She spoke of special moments she will cherish while the two were growing up, bringing a smile to her face.
“As an adult, you were this intelligent, charismatic, funny and extremely sarcastic man – who loved beer and baseball, much like our dad.”
Colleagues spoke about many hours working with the two pilots, supporting each other and “enjoying a good pint at the Woodyard.”
In lieu of flowers, GoFundMe pages have been set up to support the pilots’ families.
Hayworth had worked at Air Tindi for eight years and McKillop for almost three.
What caused the aircraft to go down is not clear. The plane’s cockpit voice recorder has been sent to a Transportation Safety Board laboratory in Ottawa for analysis.