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'He lit up a room': Sister remembers Howie Benwell, who died in the Fort Smith plane crash

Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, had recently turned 30. (Submitted by Crystal Benwell - image credit)
Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, had recently turned 30. (Submitted by Crystal Benwell - image credit)
Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, had recently turned 30.
Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, had recently turned 30.

Howie Benwell, who recently turned 30, was headed to work at the Diavik Diamond Mine last week when a plane operated by Northwestern Air Lease hit the ground and caught fire. Benwell was among the 6 people who died in the crash. (Submitted by Crystal Benwell)

Howie Benwell loved to rock.

A heavy equipment operator at the Diavik diamond mine in the N.W.T., Howie was passionate about music, adored his two nieces and had more friends than you can count.

"He was a light. He lit up the room," said Crystal Benwell, Howie's sister, in an interview Monday. "He was a talented musician; he could pick up songs just by listening to them."

And he loved his metal music.

Howie, who had just recently celebrated his 30th birthday, died last Tuesday when the plane he was on crashed and caught fire near Fort Smith, N.W.T. He was one of six killed in the crash. A seventh person survived.

The youngest of four siblings, Howie had worked at Diavik for seven or eight years, Crystal said.

Crystal said the tragedy has brought her family together in recent days to mourn. She is taking solace in the legacy Howie leaves behind: one of thoughtfulness, good humour and caring for others.

"He was a great soul to have with us, to treasure for those 30 years," she said.

"Everybody loved him. The whole community knew him — he was able to touch anybody's heart and make anybody laugh."

Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, was a local musician who worked at the Diavik mine.
Howie Benwell, who died Tuesday when a plane crashed near Fort Smith, was a local musician who worked at the Diavik mine.

'Everybody loved him. The whole community knew him — he was able to touch anybody's heart and make anybody laugh.' said Howie Benwell's sister, Crystal Benwell. (Submitted by Crystal Benwell)

Growing up, she'd been a "built-in babysitter" for him, Crystal recalled with a laugh. As his older sister, she recalled watching him grow up and helping to raise him — a task she enjoyed, even when, at age 5, he went missing and her family turned over the neighbourhood looking for him.

"It turned out his uncle had promised to get him a gift that day, and he remembered," she chuckled, recalling how a family member finally found him at the Northern Store, looking at the toys, waiting for his uncle to show up.

"We were pretty scared back then, but it was a funny story in the end."

When he became an uncle himself, it was a great joy for him. He held a special spot in his heart for his two young nieces, she said.

While her family isn't holding a public memorial right away, she said they may do so in the spring or summer.

She said she is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community, and around the N.W.T. and the world.

"It makes me feel that my brother's legacy is being shown to all, and I'm glad for that," she said.