Orin Seybert, Alaska aviation trailblazer who founded PenAir, dies

Apr. 19—Alaska aviator Orin Seybert, who founded and shepherded Peninsula Airways into the largest regional carrier in Alaska, died Friday.

Or, as his family said in a statement, he took "his final flight west."

He was 87.

Seybert started the airline at the age of 18 in 1955, in Pilot Point in Southwest Alaska where he lived. He started it with his first plane, a 1946 Taylorcraft. The goal was flying village residents to hospitals, his family said.

PenAir, as it later became known, operated for 65 years. Orin stepped aside from the business around 2007, when PenAir flew to 45 communities and operated three dozen aircraft, including 30-passenger SAABs, according to an article at the time.

PenAir entered bankruptcy in 2017, after the company began offering flights in some Lower 48 locations.

Eventually it was sold to a Lower 48 investor in 2020, said Danny Seybert, the former chief executive and Orin's son who took over the company from his father.

"Orin was a true public servant in his service to his fellow Alaskans," the family statement said. "Orin is a proud recipient of the Wright brothers Master Pilot award as well as an inductee of the Alaska Aviation Hall of Fame, among many other accolades."

PenAir's fleet included American-made Grumman aircraft, like the amphibious Goose and Widgeon planes that could reach some of the state's most remote corners.

Seybert was known as the "finest Grumman pilot in the world," and he flew his personal Widgeon all around Alaska for the company, the family said.

Orin also was a leader and chairperson at the Alaska Aviation Museum along Lake Hood in Anchorage, where he helped it grow, his family said.

"Orin was a great historian, who shared many stories, pieces of history, and aviation lore with the museum for preservation," the family said.

He was husband, father, brother, and grandfather to over 66 direct family members, the family said.

During large family gatherings, he'd often laugh and exclaim: "I am responsible for this mess," the family said.