On the early morning of March 8, 2013, recent Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate Neil Jensen tragically lost his life while flying among the mountainous terrain of the Alaskan wilderness. Jensen was acting as First Officer on a Beechcraft 1900 turboprop for ACE Air Cargo when his aircraft impacted rising terrain during adverse weather conditions. His funeral was held in Anchorage, Alaska on March 13.
If Jensen had followed the typical four-year path of most students, he would have been set to graduate this spring. However, through hard work and dedication, he was able to earn his degree in Aeronautical Science, with honors, an entire year early.
Shortly after graduation, Jensen landed a position flying turboprops; an opportunity he knew was extremely fortunate for a recent alumni. In a few short months of flying for ACE Air Cargo, he experienced more than most do in years. He traveled to virtually every corner of Alaska and almost doubled his total flight hours. Jensen’s family said that they had never seen him happier than in the last month before he passed away. He had been blessed with what most would consider a “dream job”. While his death was a tragic accident, he passed away doing what he loved more than anything.
Many knew Jensen as a smart, shy, and gentle giant with an unbridled passion for aviation and a heart of gold. While he was a somewhat private person, Neil was nothing less than a brother to his close friends and former roommates. Though his time spent at ERAU was shorter than most, he made the best of his college experience and lived his student life to the fullest: from hiking Camelback Mountain and Glassford Hill to watching countless hours of Flight of the Concords and Adventure Time.
To the layman, Jensen may have seemed like a straight-laced guy that probably belonged in the engineering program more so than the College of Aviation; he had a very inquisitive mind. Jensen loved to build intricate gizmos and solve puzzles. But, to the people close to him, he was the most hilarious, fun loving, and quick-witted person they had ever met. Neil was more than a friend, or even a best friend, he was a role model; he was someone you could really look up to and inspire to be like.
Those that loved him will always remember his actions and words. For the close-knit group of people on this campus, with which he spent most of his time, not a day will go by without making a “Neil Reference” or asking themselves “What would Neil Do?” when an awkward, trying, or especially silly situation arises.
Neil lived his life with an unstifled devotion to the people he cared about. There was nothing that could hold a candle to the way he felt for his close friends and large, loving family.
Whether it was climbing the highest Alaskan peaks or simply scrambling in the Dells, Neil was always the one to organize a day of fun with the ones he cared for most dearly. He thrived on his close relationships and always strived to make others happy.
Although Neil may no longer walk this earth, or aviate through the skies above, he will live on in spirit, forever reminding us of the quirkiness that life has to offer.