Journal of the San Juan Islands


Christopher Keith Marsden: 1946 — 2012 | Passages

February 1, 2013 · 7:32 PM

Christopher Marsden / Contributed photo

Chris Marsden, a long time resident, business owner and pilot in the San Juan Islands passed away Dec. 17, 2012, after a tragic accident on Dec. 13 in his hangar at Boeing Field, in Seattle.

Chris was born in Spokane, Wash., graduated from Lincoln High School in Seattle, and received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington in geography. During college he served in the Army National Guard and then was accepted into the Navy, and trained as a jet pilot during the later phases of the Vietnam War.

Chris married Jamie Johnston in 1974, and they spent their first year of marriage at the Naval base at Cubi Point in the Philippines. After Cubi Point, Chris was stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle, and then sent to Denver, Colo. where he finished out his enlistment and became father to a beautiful baby girl, Timmie.

Wanting more adventure out of life, Chris decided to become a bush pilot in Alaska, and set out for the northern frontier. He ended up flying out of Bethel and Barrow, where he honed his skills in small aircraft, fighting the weather and carrying supplies and equipment to native villages.

Still in search of the path less taken, Chris and Jamie settled in late 1978 on San Juan Island, where Chris first flew for Roy Franklin, who owned San Juan Airlines. However, his entrepreneurial and independent spirit drove him to start a one-man, one-plane charter flying service in 1985 called ChartAir.

Within two years, he had grown the business into Air San Juan, a small commuter airline that serviced San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands; Anacortes, Bellingham, and Sea-Tac. At its height, Air San Juan employed over 15 pilots and 31 employees, with a fleet of 10 aircraft.

It was in the San Juan Islands that Chris earned his reputation as an excellent pilot with a determination to provide good service to his passengers.  He was a “natural” flyer, who found challenging flying conditions to his liking, taking many late night, miserable weather flights to transport medivacs and prisoners.

In 2002, Chris began scenic flight services out of Friday Harbor called San Juan Air Tours, spending summer months flying whale-watch tours, and winter months in Gillette, Wyo., where Jamie’s employment took them until spring of 2006. Settling back in Seattle, Chris’s scenic flight business expanded in late 2011 to Boeing Field under the name Jet City Air Tours and departing from The Museum of Flight.

Chris’s many joys in life included commercial flying (preferably for some necessary mission on windy, rough weather days), discussing worldly affairs, hiking in the woods, singing, wood carving, writing, and reading. But in this past year his greatest joy has been playing with his granddaughter--she lit up his life like nothing else.

He will be missed by many friends and family members.

— Family of Christopher Marsden



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