Craig couple who perished in plane crash remembered for caring, closeness
March 13, 2019
The preliminary accident report has been released by the National Transportation Safety Board revealing more details about a small plane crash on a hillside near Ely, Nevada, that claimed the lives of Moffat County couple Philip Bethell, 72, his wife Linda Bethell, 66, and their 1 1/2-year-old Yorkshire terrier Neep.
As investigators begin to understand the events that led to the Feb. 15 crash, friends and family are picking up the pieces of hearts shattered by the loss of their loved ones.
Phil and Linda met in Wisconsin, fell in love, and created a marriage that daughter Jenny Green said was a "true partnership in every way."
Phil brought to the union two daughters from a previous marriage, and together, he and Linda had four more daughters.
Phil was in the oil and gas industry. After working in the oil fields in New Mexico through his 20s, the family moved to Maybell. Phil purchased a truck and started Bethell Trucking.
"Dad started with nothing but an idea and a dream. He was a highly self-motivated thinker. He did not have people in his field telling him what he should do or how he should do it," Megan Bethell said.
With the encouragement of friends and mentors, Phil grew the company, moved to property he purchased in Lay, added more trucks and employees and eventually opened a second business — Elk Springs Recycle & Recovery.
The business was fiercely competitive and changing regulations resulted in some difficult times, including legal battles.
"It's not an unusual thing in his line of work. Being the head of a business, it was fiercely competitive. It happened all the time," Megan said. "It's a hard world out here in the industry. He did his best for one person, making decisions without an army of lawyers beside him."
Linda was her husband's trusted confidante, a talented cook who went to culinary school and provided for her family.
"She could take the little bits of food we had and make a full course meal," Jenny recalled. "She was really crafty making clothing, T-shirts, pants, socks, and hats."
The couple held to traditional Christian beliefs, which was reflected in their charitable service work.
"Mom was very selfless. … After grandma died, she worked in hospice, and I was her assistant," Jenny said.
She would visit with people while Jenny cleaned and took care of pets.
Usually, Linda and Phil could be found working together, as they did with their prison ministry at the Rifle prison.
Megan added, "they were part of the history club, took care of their employees. There were always calling to check on someone."
The women recalled a time when a neighbor's property was on fire and Phil loaded a truck with water, organized his employees, "rolling in to help the neighbor," Megan said.
Linda and Phil also believed in learning, from time to time homeschooling their daughters.
"They turned us into people of substance," Megan said.
They also continued learning new things themselves and particularly enjoyed trying out new recipes and treasure hunting together.
In 2009, Phil got his pilot's license.
"I remember him constantly leaving the house from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and I asked him, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ He said, 'Well Jen, I'm taking flying lessons. I'm learning how to be a pilot,'" Jenny said.
Phil was Linda's favorite pilot.
"They were exploring a new passion in the plane. That was where they felt free and that they had options. In a business over time, you don't own it; it owns you. It allowed him to obtain his goals, but it also stopped him from exploring his passions," Megan said.
In recent years, the Bethells were beginning to transition into retirement, but still worked and operated the businesses.
"The past two years, business has suffered. It was at its lowest in 20 years. Mom's health wasn't great. They were facing real struggles," Megan said.
On that fateful Friday in February, Phil was flying the first leg of a two-day trip to take Linda to a doctor in Canada on a trip they had been making quarterly for three or four years.
Jenny said, "she was about 80-percent blind from retinitis pigmentosa” — a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.
"This was a way he could show up for her. She enjoyed travel, new places, and a treatment that told her there's hope," Jenny said.
It was an appointment Phil and Linda would never make.
The area in which the Bethells' plane went down is known for crashes, and the elements were against them.
“The flight originated from Craig-Moffat Airport (CAG), Craig, Colorado, about 1525 (5:25 p.m.) Mountain Standard Time, and was destined for Twin Falls Regional Airport (TWF), Twin Falls, Idaho,” the NTSB preliminary crash report read.
They would have stayed overnight in Idaho before continuing on to make Linda's Monday appointment.
"On February 15, 2019, about 1715 Pacific standard time (PST), a Cirrus SR22, N917SR, was destroyed following impact with terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude, about 3.4 nautical miles (nm) north-northeast of Ely Airport (ELY), Ely, Nevada. The private pilot and passenger received fatal injuries," according to the NTSB report.
It seems Phil diverted west and was flying low to avoid a storm.
"He was a competent flyer. He would wait until the right moment," Megan said.
A Federal Aviation Administration "controller questioned the pilot about his route of flight, as the airplane was not heading toward TWF, the destination airport. The pilot responded by saying that (he) was trying to stay away from areas of weather to the north … (the pilot) continued to descend below 10,500 ft, saying that he was trying to stay below the cloud deck."
Megan believes her father was attempting to land in Ely.
The plane descended below the radar. The pilot of another plane was able to make contact. Phil acknowledged him before all communication was lost with the Bethells.
"A local Ely resident who resides just east of the Ely Airport reported that about 1700 (5 p.m.) PST, he heard an airplane flying low over his residence in the clouds. The resident stated that the weather was very bad at that time and that he could not see the house next door to him. He also stated that the clouds were at tree-top level," the report read.
The airplane's wreckage was located the following afternoon, Feb. 16, about 3.4 nm northwest of the Ely Airport, nose down in a snow-covered hill. There were no survivors.
The NTSB and FAA continue to investigate, and a final report is expected in 12 to 18 months.
Flying allowed Phil and Linda the freedom to travel to visit their daughters, who lived across the county.
The family all gathered at Thanksgiving in a large celebration of the holidays, as well as Phil and Linda's birthdays, which were both in November and only a few days apart.
"It was a special time," Megan said.
She, Jenny, and their sisters take comfort in knowing their parents were together to the end.
"They were so connected they would not have been well without each other," Megan said. "They were a powerful force together. It was fitting that they also died together."
A celebration of Life services for Phil and Linda Bethell, of Craig, will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at The New Creation Church. A light reception will follow at the church. Memorial donations may be made to The Philip and Linda Bethell Memorial Fund at Yampa Valley Bank.
"They had deep faith in God. They were Christians," said Megan. "To them, the ending is not the ending."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.