On May 6, Skagway lost a piece of its heart.
It was a loss felt round the valley, echoing off mountain caps with rockslides and rainbows that could only be described as resistance to the pain and celebration of a life cut too short.
Longtime Temso Helicopter Inc. pilot and beloved Skagway resident Christoper Maggio, 59, died after his helicopter crashed near Denver Glacier during a supply run return from Alaska Icefield Expedition’s’ sled dog camp. At 7 p.m., when his arrival back to Temsco’s base was overdue, management made the decision to send a helicopter to search for him. His crashed helicopter was found at 8 p.m. by a fellow Temsco pilot.
Alaska State Trooper Ryan Anderson said the cause and time of the crash remains unknown but is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board personnel.
NTSB Aviation Accident Investigator Mike Hodges said the Airbus AS350B2 helicopter impacpted the terrain under unknown circumstances, and the wreckage is in the process of being recovered. While a complete report of the crash could take up to a year and a half, he said a preliminary report will be available on their website within five to 10 days.
“We want to do a methodical and in-depth investigation of the man, the machine and environment,” he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard was alerted of the crash and sent assistance from Sitka at 8:26 p.m. Search and rescue confirmed only Maggio was on board. His body was recovered by the Skagway Fire Department and was sent to the medical examiner in Anchorage for an autopsy.
Temsco Vice President of Tours and Marketing Tim McDonnell said Maggio had worked for the company for more than 20 years. The loss of a pilot and friend has hurt the Temsco family as much as it has the community of Skagway.
“We’re just going through this thing as best as we can,” McDonnell said. “We share the mourning as well. It’s a great loss to both the community and to the company.”
News of Maggio’s death sent waves of grief throughout the valley. Facebook feeds were flooded with memories and photos, each one highlighting a kind heart, glowing smile and his love for flying.
In 1997, Maggio rescued a pilot and passenger from a Haines Airways crash that took the lives of four others. As reported in the Juneau Empire, Maggio and Ben Tatone arrived just outside of Burro Creek in just seven minutes, sending emergency floats to the survivors. They guided rescue boats to the women who were then brought back to shore. He was quoted as saying he wished they could have done more.
He was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 with his inclusion in the prestigious FAA Airmen Certification Database, listing him as a pilot who has exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.
Maggio had a love for antique cars, music, his family and his partner Denise Caposey.
He was a former Skagway School Board member and an active member of the Skagway Arts Council. He taught a ukulele workshop at the school for three years and was known for his musical talents.
But of all the things he was known for, he was known most for his great smile and infectious kindness.
On a personal note, I saw Maggio on Friday. As he drove past, we smiled and waved. I can’t say I knew him well, but he always had kind words for the paper and a smile to share, accompanied by a twinkling eye revealing his love and light. His death has created a well of grief for all who knew him, if only by a few passing phrases and smiles.
Grief in Skagway is similar to love in Skagway. It is strong and loud and all at once. It is all encompassing and filled with emotion. In a way, grief in Skagway is love. It is a love for the community, love for family, love for each other and love for a man who will never be forgotten.
A celebration of life will be held in Maggio’s memory today from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Temsco Helicopters on the Ore Dock. All are welcome to attend.
Last Friday, rainbows welcomed Maggio into the sky. Last Saturday, boulders fell from the mountain, crushing a considerable section of train track. The valley mourned the loss of one of its own, and Skagway did too.