CIRI shareholder was first Alaska Native women pilot

CIRI shareholder was first Alaska Native women pilot

Ellen Evak Paneok’s creative spirit expressed itself in the air, on paper and in her selfless giving as a volunteer to service organizations. Her wit and humor served her well and at the same time entertained her friends and passengers.

A true Alaskan, Paneok was the first Alaska Native woman pilot. Her death on March 2 at age 48 after a long illness left her many friends and admirers feeling that the loss to the aviation community was immeasurable.

“She left a large footprint in Alaska, one that no one will ever replace,” said author Sandi Sumner, who was a friend of Paneok’s.

Sumner said she met Paneok in 2004 when she went to her home to interview her. “She gave me a tour, and I was stunned when I saw five airplane propellers decorating her home! Every wall of her home, including the guest bathroom, depicted something to do with Alaska aviation — it was her life!”

Another friend and fellow female pilot, Pat Heller, said: “She loved to fly. She wanted to be the best at everything.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski paid a tribute to Paneok in the March 7 Congressional Record, chronicling Paneok’s life as a pilot and her many accomplishments:

“Ellen started flying in 1976. She flew primarily out of Barrow carrying mail and supplies to the Native villages of northern Alaska.

“Her life story is chronicled in the ‘Women of Flight’ exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in the nineties. Ellen was one of 37 women in aviation who were part of that exhibit.

“On September 11, 1997, she delighted museum goers with stories about chasing polar bears off the runway before she could land, flying in Alaska’s extreme weather conditions and restoring airplanes.”

It was a CIRI dividend that got Paneok started in her aviation career. She used a $1,500 check she received to help pay for her flying lessons. Within five years, she had attained her commercial and flight instructor certificates.

Writing in the AOPA Online publication (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), Nathan Ferguson noted her extensive flying experience: “In 1983, her first flying job was in Kiana, flying a Piper Cherokee Six. In her 17 years as a commercial pilot in Alaska, she had ferried everything from dynamite to live wolverines, the U.S. mail, passengers, and medical patients.”

Ferguson also noted that Paneok was as well known for her writing as her flying and that she was published in AOPA Pilot and Alaska Magazine. She served as an operations inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and as an aviation safety coordinator for the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation.

Paneok also was an artist who painted and did scrimsaw work on ivory, and she was active in several organizations, including The Alaska Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots, and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. She volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southcentral Alaska.

Paneok was born Oct. 17, 1959. Her mother Bernice Evak Burgandine was Inupiaq from Kotzebue, and Paneok spent some time in Northwest Alaska, but grew up in Anchorage. Her father was in the military. Paneok died March 2, 2008, at the Alaska Native Medical Center.