Thomas Besh 04/23/93 Kashwitna River Flying Crash
Bradley Finch 04/23/93 Kashwitna River Flying Crash

Two Die In Plane Crash
ADN 4/26/93

Two men were killed Friday night when their plane crashed 20 miles north of Palmer, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Thomas Besh, 45, of Anchorage, was a passenger in the plane. The identity of the pilot, the only other person on board, was withheld pending notification of relatives. FAA spokeswoman Joette Storm said the Super Cub was reported to have crashed at about 6:30 p.m. Friday at the headwaters of the Kashwitna River. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Alaska State Troopers in Palmer refused to release information on the crash until today. Besh's stepfather, Frank Jackson, said Besh was a physical education associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Jackson said Besh was also a big game guide and may have been scouting hunt locations at the time of the crash. Memorial services for Besh are pending.

Coach Dies In Plane Crash Besh Taught Thousands Of Alaskans Art Of Nordic Skiing
By Beth Bragg , ADN 4/27/93

Tom Besh, one of Alaska's first home-grown skiing and mountain-running stars, made a living out of sharing his expertise with others. Besh, 45, died Friday in a plane crash north of Palmer, leaving behind a tremendous legacy of students and athletes.

He coached thousands of Anchorage cross-country skiers including a handful of Olympians and 19 collegiate All-Americans and was credited with helping develop both the ski team and the physical education department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

A memorial service will be held Friday at 5 p.m. at the Kincaid Park chalet.

Besh spent 13 years as UAA's head ski coach, coming aboard just as the team became an NCAA Division I program. By the time he resigned in 1990 to take a full-time faculty position, Besh had won one national championship, helped produce 19 All-Americans and boasted one of the highest graduation rates and team GPAs in the athletic department. He was an associate professor in the department of education at the time of his death. A man whose quiet demeanor sometimes belied his competitive and adventurous spirit, Besh was an expert cross-country skier, runner, pilot, outdoorsman and coach.

He was a three-time winner of the fabled Mount Marathon race in Seward and competed on the first cross-country ski team to represent Alaska at the Junior Olympics.

"He was one of my heroes," said Bill Spencer, a 1988 Olympian and the Mount Marathon record-holder. "When I first started doing Mount Marathon, he was one of the guys I looked up to. He was one of the few guys that have beat me up there."

Besh and Spencer waged an epic battle in the 1977 race. The two were practically side-by-side as they raced up the 3,022-foot peak, and though Spencer recalls reaching the top first, Besh beat him on the way down. Only one other person, Sam Young of Seward, has ever

defeated Spencer in Mount Marathon.

Besh was a fierce competitor, Spencer said, and an admirable one. "He was always just the nicest guy when you'd get to a race. No mental games he was always really straightforward," Spencer said. "When the gun went off he was there to beat you, but he was going to do it by beating you up the mountain, not by any other means."

Guy Thibodeau, who was one of Besh's assistant coaches at UAA in the mid-80s, said competing against Besh was often an education.

"Even though he wanted to win as much as the next guy, it was never a personal thing," Thibodeau said. "He was a great one for really helping people and helping them to achieve. To me, he personified what a team effort was all about."

After graduating in 1971 from Western State College in Colorado where he earned All-America honorable mention status in skiing Besh returned to Anchorage, which had been his home since he was 6 months old. He taught and coached at East High, Bartlett and Service before heading to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1976. He coached running and skiing at UAF while earning his master's degree, and then came to UAA in late 1977 as the head ski coach.

Thousands of skiers called Besh coach.

"I first met Tom when I was 12 years old," said Jim Renkert, an Anchorage man who was a national-caliber cross-country skier in the 1980s. "The Nordic Ski Club was giving a clinic at Russian Jack Springs. For two days he was my coach, and he taught me some things that I used for the rest of my ski career that no one else ever taught me."

Teaching was one of the things Besh did best, said Jim Mahaffey, a long-time coach and teacher in Anchorage.

"Tom had evolved into a wonderful educator. That's one of the finest things I can say about him," Mahaffey said. "He was highly ethical, and very concerned about his students. He was a sort of quiet type of teacher-coach. He demanded a lot he had a high ethical standard and a high technical standard but he peddled it softly."

Paul Crews, who succeeded Besh as UAA's head ski coach, said Besh might have been quiet, but he was a man of strong convictions. "He could be tough to make a point," said Crews, who remembers Besh as a strong-willed proponent for the minor sports at UAA. "He'd get after it tooth-and-nail." Besh was physically tough, too. As a skier at East High, Besh once traveled to Fairbanks, where he had his first experience racing in temperatures well below zero. He was not equipped for such brutal weather, but he skied the entire race and wound up hospitalized with frostbite.

In the aftermath of the 1964 earthquake, Besh was so determined to train for the Mount Marathon junior race that he rode his bike along what remained of the road connecting Anchorage and Seward.

"Adventurous? You better believe it," said his mother, Maxine Jackson. "That was the type of thing he was always doing."