It has been three weeks since the Rediske family and the aviation community lost Willy Rediske in a plane crash at the Soldotna Airport.
With the many tears and confusion that comes with the loss of loved ones, the celebration of his life was well attended at Rediske Air Inc. in Nikiski.
Willy Rediske was a fourth-generation Alaskan, raised in Nikiski, who graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1988.
Tim Pope, owner of Soldotna’s Natron Air Inc., sat down recently to talk about Rediske, who he described as a warm and friendly man who was a good family friend and colleague.
Pope said he was introduced to Rediske in 1998 by “Papa Charlie” Rediske.
“Papa Charlie, Willy’s dad, laid foundation for the business,” Pope said. “He and I were really, really good friends.”
Pope said that to his knowledge, Willy Rediske had been a pilot for the better part of a decade.
In 2001, Rediske and his sister took over the family business as partners after their father died.
In the beginning, the two air charter businesses were doing the same things, over time they evolved into different areas.
During that time Pope and Rediske formed not only a business bond, but also a friendship.
“That’s 15 years I knew that really good man,” he said.
Pope explained that Rediske Air deals mostly with the northern Cook Inlet oil field business while Natron Air focuses on southern Cook Inlet tourism and sightseeing.
“But we always helped each other,” Pope said. “He’d always have a plane ready to help me out.”
On a typical day, Pope said he and Rediske spoke on the radio often and visited at their Soldotna Airport offices, talking to each other and employees.
“He would come over and help me drain the coffeepot,” Pope said with a chuckle.
Pope said that Rediske, who had a quick wit, highly valued his large extended family, friends, fellow pilots and employees.
“The family is tight knit,” he said. “He was highly respected and liked by (everyone) I know in the aviation community.”
Pope’s last communication with Rediske was over the radio the morning of the plane crash. He said the two talked mostly about the day’s good weather.
Later that morning, Pope was in the air, on his way back from Kalgin Island, when he received the news on the radio from his wife, who works at Natron Air, about the crash.
She called 911 to report the crash. Once he got to the airport, Pope said he and others stood around in shock, trying to comprehend what happened.
Pope said he was stunned when he saw the plane and emergency crews on the tarmac.
“An Otter is a very majestic, beautiful airplane,” he said. “It is one of the safest planes.”
“It was disbelief at first,” he said.
He said all flights were cancelled for the day as they all tried to somehow absorb it.
Rediske Air Inc. flights have since resumed. As family, friends, coworkers, colleagues and community members are still mourning the man that made quite an impression, Pope said Rediske’s well known parting words play in his mind often — keep in touch.
“One cool thing about Willy is that if you had not heard from him in a while, it might be two or three weeks, a month, he would call you just to check in and see how you were doing, and talk with you for a little while. He always ended the conversation with ‘Keep in touch.’ That was always his last words,” Pope said. “That was kind of his thing.”
Pope said that phrase means a lot, to a lot of people.
“It’s a lesson that we can all remember, keep in touch with our family and friends, and fellow employees that we love.”
Reach Sara J. Hardan at firstname.lastname@example.org.