Benjamin Pettingill’s memory carries on

On Feb. 9, the Airbus Eurocopter EC130 embarked on what was supposed to be a short trip from Palm Springs, California to Boulder, Nevada. Unfortunately, due to heavy rains and other issues that have not been identified, the helicopter left a shallow crater as it crashed into Southern California’s Mojave Desert, resulting in the death of all six passengers on board, one of whom was an NPHS alumni. 

However, Ben Pettingill’s story does not lie in his death. 

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life,” – an epigraph from “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer: Pettingill’s favorite book. Although these words were written by Leo Tolstoy, they could have easily been those of Pettingill himself, as he exemplified what it means to never let life slip past. 

While most little kids’ career dreams start off as princesses and superheroes, Pettingill had his sights elsewhere, as he knew he was going to become a pilot. With that dream always in his mind, he let it guide him throughout his life and encourage him to bring a passion so inspiring, it could be felt in the hearts of all around him. One of whom is Robert Martin, Pettingill’s favorite teacher while attending Newbury Park High School. 

After having the pleasure of teaching Pettingill in both earth science and biology, the two’s friendship quickly sparked and later grew stronger during Pettingill’s time in the DATA program. “Ben was the type of person who could get along with absolutely everybody. When we went out on field trips, he was a student I was always proud to have wearing a DATA t-shirt,” Martin said. “Throughout the rest of his time at NPHS we were always able to joke around and have a good laugh, but he also always knew when it was time to take things seriously.”

Although Pettingill graduated in 2016, Martin continued to stay in touch with his family, as his younger brother Andrew was also a student at NPHS and in DATA. The last Martin had heard from Pettingill was in July, 2020. through email. “He shared that while he was learning to be a flight instructor, he “thought about all the time and effort you put into our classes and how you went the extra mile to keep us focused and learning effectively,”  and that he just wanted to reach out and say thank you,” Martin said. “While I do know that students may often feel thankful for their teachers later in life, we really don’t hear back from you guys all that much. I think this is a good example of the type of person he was.” 

As Martin reread the email for the first time after so long, Pettingill’s first sentence sticks out in his mind. “He started with “Not sure if you remember me,” and while I did state that I remembered him I think I should have been more clear. I of course remembered him. I remembered him as a great student, a boy scout, and a friend for 4 years. I remembered him then, I remember him now, and I will remember him always,” Martin said. 

Ben Pettingill’s story will continue to live on in the hearts of the many who he leaves behind, including his fiancée Rylee, his mother Treva, his father David, his bonus mom Jenny, his brother Andrew, his bonus brother Kody and Cooper, along with everyone else who was touched by his spark.