Airport Staffer Remembers Fallen Pilot as Town Plans Memorial

June 21, 2024

Jun. 20—COLONIE — Kira Davenport only spent a few minutes with Natalie Gillis on Monday morning before her planned flight to Montreal, but the 34-year-old Canadian artist and adventurer, who was killed shortly after takeoff from Albany International Airport, left an enormous impression.

Davenport works in customer service at Million Air, the private terminal at Albany International which in pilot lingo is known as an FBO, short for fixed-base operator. Gillis was in a good mood as she walked past Davenport's desk to the doors that lead to the tarmac.

"She was smiling when she left the FBO," Davenport said. "She carries herself so well. So professional. She touched on all of us." The word she kept returning to was "incredible."

"She was such an incredible person. She was so sweet and her smile was amazing. She loved flying and leaves an incredible legacy," Davenport said of Gillis who, in her short life, sailed the Southern Ocean, worked as a wilderness guide and delivered mail and supplies by air to Inuit communities, taking spellbinding photographs along the way.

She said she'd seen Gillis's plane at the FBO a few times and that the company Gillis worked for, KASI Aviation Services, stopped at Albany International a few times but that she had only had the chance to speak with her on Monday morning. But even in that brief encounter it was clear Gillis "lived every second to the fullest," she said. "I'm just trying to share it with as many people as possible."

Tributes are likely to continue.

Town Supervisor Peter Crummey said that the town will build a permanent memorial dedicated to Gillis.

A precise location for the memorial has yet to be determined, but Crummey said he hoped to put it in a "contemplative place" near but not at the site of the crash. A place somewhere on the grounds of the William K. Sanford Town Library was the most likely choice, Crummey said. Gillis's plane crashed in a wooded area off an access road to the library and the building served as a command post for officials responding to the crash.

He said he had been in touch with Gillis's brother, Matthew Yap, about possible language for a memorial plaque.

Speaking at a brief media appearance next to the crash site where a makeshift memorial with tributes and flowers has taken shape over the last four days, Crummey spoke of Gillis's love of nature and extended condolences to her family. He also said that on Monday he had initially been told that a plane had struck a building in the town before, moments later, getting a more accurate assessment of where the plane had crashed.

"This could have been so much worse," Crummey said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that a full investigation into the cause of the crash could take as long as two years but that a preliminary report could be issued in a few weeks.

Davenport, who has had her pilot's license for just over a year and flies regularly, said the crash has cast a pall over the FBO.

"It's a hard hit in the flying community which I'm involved with," she said, noting that fellow female pilots have been left particularly saddened by the crash.

"(Gillis) will be one of the things in the back of my head whenever I'm flying," Davenport said. In fact, Davenport was back in the air the day after the crash.

"She was the first thing I thought of when I got in the sky," she said.


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