PenAir founder and Grumman Goose pilot Orin Seybert dies at 87

Danny and Orin Seybert
Orin Seybert, right, and his son Danny Seybert pose for a photo outside Danny’s home in Anchorage. Orin founded PenAir in the 1950s and Danny ran it until it was purchased by a private equity firm. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Legendary aviator Orin Seybert, perhaps best known as the founder of regional airline Peninsula Airways, died of natural causes Friday morning in Anchorage at the age of 87.

Seybert started the airline in 1955, just after graduating high school in the Southwest Alaska town of Pilot Point.

“The first year after high school, I brought an airplane to Pilot Point in Bristol Bay,” Seybert told KUCB in 1999. “I spent my whole career flying up and down the chain and Bristol Bay.”

Seybert led PenAir to become the largest regional airline in Alaska, operating more than 30 aircraft in 45 communities.

Seybert was perhaps best known in Unalaska for recognizing the amphibious Grumman Goose’s potential for operating along the steep coastlines of the Aleutian Islands, where coastal communities built below mountainous terrain pose particular difficulties for constructing runways.

“It’s a flying boat. The hull is actually a boat, as opposed to a float plane…so this thing can handle the rough water around Dutch Harbor,” Seybert said. “We have communities like Akutan, 40 miles from here, which is extremely mountainous, and they’ll never be able to build a runway there.”

Seybert is survived by six children and over 50 grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.

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