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Family, Friends Recall a Man Who Loved to Fly

Mourners gather near the site where Dennis Beitel's plane crashed in bad weather last week. The accident is being investigated.

November 12, 2002|Mai Tran

Dennis Beitel's passion for flying ran so deep that he told family and friends that when his time finally came, he hoped he was in the sky, piloting his airplane.

After learning that Beitel's single-engine Cessna had crashed early Friday morning, family members knew almost immediately where they must gather to mourn his death.

On Monday, about 100 friends and family members met near the Anaheim hillside where his plane had crashed and celebrated Beitel's love for food, laughter and flying.

"His time here was good. He made us all happy," said his daughter Stacy Beitel, 28, of Irvine. "He didn't like funerals or anything depressing. He'd want us celebrating."

Beitel, a commodities broker in Irvine who typically commuted from his Temecula residence by air, had been a pilot for about 40 years and enjoyed flying so much that he taught his parents and his daughter to fly.

Beitel, 58, was killed when his airplane clipped power lines along the Riverside Freeway and then nosed into a hill just south of the freeway near Gypsum Canyon Road. Because of darkness and rough weather, it took authorities several hours to find the plane and his body.

The cause of the crash has not been determined, but family members speculated that the stormy weather was probably a factor. National Transportation Safety Board officials said they would inspect the wreckage this week at a facility near Palmdale in an effort to pinpoint the cause.

"He's an experienced pilot, and he flies this path every day," his daughter said. "He was never afraid to fly. He was cautious, and he was a great pilot."

Family members said the weather was clear in Temecula when Beitel left for work Friday. But by the time he crossed the county line, the weather had changed. "Mother Nature was nasty that morning," said his son, Nick Beitel, 33, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Though Beitel enjoyed winging off to San Diego or Palm Springs for a weekend getaway, his plane was essentially a commuter vehicle. He'd drive to French Valley Aviation in Temecula, fly his Cessna 150E to Fullerton Municipal Airport and then drive to Irvine.

Though there were tears at Monday's memorial, laughter was in greater abundance as friends and family recalled the "big kid" who was suppose to have been on a diet but recently was caught eating junk food.

"Tacos and Krispy Kreme doughnuts was Dad's style," Stacy Beitel said, laughing.

Beitel was remembered as an outgoing sort with a tender side. At the memorial, there were photographs of him tipping a belly dancer at an upscale restaurant, cradling his granddaughter in his arms, riding a horse and vacationing in Hawaii.

As mourners took turns riding from Green River Golf Club in Corona to the crash site on golf carts, colleagues recalled Beitel's generosity.

"When I started in the business, I thought they'd be sharks," said Doug Stewart, a co-worker. "But Dennis offered me an account, and we worked together and both made money. He was very generous, and he was there for me when I really, really needed it."

Co-workers recalled teasing Beitel about his pastel wardrobe, but he never seemed to mind. He would tell them that Brenda Benbow, the woman he lived with, usually picked out his wardrobe the night before.

"He died the way he wanted to die," Benbow said. "He was the love of my life. He was a good man."

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