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Oct 30, 2017

Vale Ben Sandilands, renowned aviation journalist and Crikey blogger

Crikey's aviation blogger Ben Sandilands passed away on Friday after a long illness.

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Crikey‘s aviation blogger Ben Sandilands passed away on Friday after a long illness. He had written the Plane Talking blog for almost 10 years for Crikey, and had previously been an aviation reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald, with almost 60 years experience. The loss of Ben Sandilands was a huge shock. He has been a presence in Australian journalism for decades – many readers would have read his work growing up – and perhaps we’d just assumed he would always be with us, always there to answer questions about aviation, to quash a conspiracy theory, to offer a guide to the arcane world of regulation and safety, to tell us what pilots and engineers were saying about incidents around the world. When disaster struck, Ben was the journalist we turned to, because we trusted his expertise and his judgment. Now he’s gone, and he leaves a huge, probably unfillable, gap. There aren’t enough journalists like Sandilands around any more, and the impact on our media, and what readers and audiences get from the media, is palpable. Ben knew his subject area as well as any expert, and better than most. But more than his expertise and his contacts, accumulated over decades, he had two gifts – an appropriate journalistic scepticism of anything he was seeing and hearing, and a capacity to render often impenetrably complex technical issues into not merely readable but engaging analysis. His ongoing coverage of the tragedy of MH370 – particularly his capacity to separate lurid conspiracy theory from intriguing possibility – was probably the best in the world. It’s pro forma when a journalist passes to laud their work. But the loss of Ben is a painful reminder of what we’re losing more broadly in the media. As the media business model collapses, we have fewer and fewer journalists like him; specialists who retain a good journalist’s capacity to tell stories that engage the layperson are a luxury few outlets can now afford, and we’re all the poorer for it. Ben will be remembered in a more detailed obituary in the coming days. If you knew Ben and would like to speak to Crikey journalist Sally Whyte, she can be contacted here.

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25 comments

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25 thoughts on “Vale Ben Sandilands, renowned aviation journalist and Crikey blogger

  1. patrick kilby

    Deepest condolences to family and friends as his work was very special (and now my daly aviation hit is not only one source fewer but by far the best source), and such that he did not suffer fools gladly, which from time-to-time I may have been one of those insufferable fools.

  2. Mark Pawlak

    Fare well, Ben. Thank you for your work. Your insights, skills and professional integrity will be sorely missed by many. For me, personally, your coverage of the MH370 story has been, and will remain, beyond compare.

  3. Nudiefish

    This is sad news. I never even knew I was attracted to the notion of aviation news until I started reading his work. I shall miss it very much.

  4. comet

    It’s so incredibly sad that Ben has gone.

    It happened so fast. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye himself. Thank you to Bernard Keane for the obituary, and signing out for him.

  5. jukebox

    Very sad news. I visited Plane Talking as an antidote to the mass media hysteria about aviation matters, and was always grateful for the depth of comment he made. Condolences to friends and family, he will be greatly missed.

  6. gearsau

    RIP Ben. I always enjoyed your reports,and, the no nonsense way that you reported on things.
    I knew that you were ill, but, it still comes as a shock when you hear of your passing.
    You will be sadly missed in the aviation world.
    My deepest condolences to his family and friends .

  7. George Glass

    Heart felt condolences to his family.Truly,and very regrettably,one of the last journalists left that genuinely understood and loved the industry that they reported on.Very sad.Will be sorely missed.

  8. michael r james

    Even though Ben more or less let readers of his blog know about his problems some time ago, it doesn’t make this news any less sad. I once speculated to Ben that he was on track to equal Alistair Cooke’s world record for continuous journalism. But really in a much more demanding and technical field, and an obligation or at least compulsion to keep on top of all significant developments in the field. Makes me feel a bit exhausted thinking about it! Right up to a few days before he couldn’t continue anymore. A terrific career and life and Plane Talking alone–a decade long but less than 20% of his career–was excellent service to the public. I celebrate his devotion to his work and thank him for it.

    Incidentally, Bernard Keane, I think it would be nice if some journo who knew Ben and his career, wrote a Wiki entry for him. Whoever at Crikey is going to write the promised full obituary could probably edit it for Wikipedia.

  9. Tango

    First and foremost I eco Patrick Kirby, Bens travails in this life are over, those who are left behind who have to carry on are the ones who are hurting now. Been there. They have my deepest condolences, best wishes and while Ben and I disagreed on a number of topics, his honesty and integrity was never a question .

    One of the Giants I now gone and no one can fill those shoes. Carry on maybe, but those shoes were Bens own and there are not another pair of feet like them.

    If there is any consultation to his family, its when the world at large says, “He Will Be Missed”. We were privileged to have been able to participate with a giant.

    And to all of us, carry on, don’t let Ben and what he was and stood for down.

    We are not and can never be Ben, he was truly a one off, but we can do our best to maintain his tradition of independence and integrity.

    1. Tango

      On a deeply personal note, this is the first time I have cried over a loss of a figure I did not know and as I write this I am crying.

      While I loved Ben for what he did, I did not know he had gotten that deep into my very soul.

      That too says more than I can convey about Ben.

      If there is a heaven, Ben will be on the right side telling the powers that be what they are doing wrong!

  10. Jacob HSR

    RIP Ben. I love your articles and insights along with your replies to comments under your articles. Thank you for your service.

    19?? – 2017

    When was he born? And was he actually paid by Crikey or was he blogging for the love of aviation?

    1. michael r james

      Put the following into a search:

      Crikey says: three cheers for our writers
      NOV 15, 2013

  11. Richard Mosley

    This is deeply sad – and I echo Tango’s comment about shedding a tear for the passing of one I never knew. I stumbled across Ben’s work only relatively recently, but by God I’m pleased I did. As others have said, his coverage of MH 370 was head and shoulders above anything else, and I too now worry about from where I’ll find my regular aviation ‘hit’…
    Deepest condolences to his family. I shall miss his outstanding journalism.

  12. Rowell David

    I’d noted an unusually long silence, and feared the worst.
    Who now will we have to advocate for wider seats and toilets on our behalf? And, of course, for everything else as well.
    Ben embodied the best of Australian iconoclism (is that a word?) and never hesitated to bluntly call it as he saw it. A real shame that he never published the book(s) he got close to sharing with us, because he really did know where the bodies were (are!).
    A terribly sad loss.

  13. keesje

    Ouch, Ben passed away….. Inevitable, still what a bummer.
    An fellow aviation lover / follower with an aviation writing track record second to almost none. Passionate & objective, he was young enough to catch on to global new media at an age when most retire. Regularly visiting his blog from (almost exactly) the other side of the world and having e-mails now and then, it has been a privilege dealing with him. I didn’t know he had cancer, I hope they were able to comfort him. He apparently kept doing Crikey till the end, respect! Ben becomes a nice memory for me & others for ever. The guy from another time that never let go. Cheers Ben!

    1. Dan Dair

      Keesje,
      (If the stand-in moderator of this site regards this posting as in any way inappropriate, please feel free to withdraw the complete posting from the site.
      It is not my intention to speak in the place of Ben, nor for any of his family or friends regarding his health & wellbeing,
      simply to reflect my own experience of our personal communications.)

      I’ve exchanged a few e-mails with Ben since I happened upon his blog a few years ago.
      He mentioned in one that he had been ill & I think around the same time he mentioned on the blog that he’d be out of action for a couple of weeks due to some commitments. (which with the benefit of hindsight, now seen related)

      Whilst I knew that he’d ‘been’ ill, I think he actually told me he’d been diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, but was very upbeat about his prognosis.
      Unfortunately, earlier this year he told me that his cancer had spread & then in July, he told me that he had been diagnosed as terminal. This was in part due to the nature of how his cancer had developed & in part because he was 73 years old & major surgery, including possible transplant surgery was considered unsuitable for someone of his advanced years.

      He also told me of other both related & unrelated health problems he was having, but he also made it clear how much he enjoyed his work & the direct interaction with his ‘audience’ that the Plane Talking blog gave him.

      So long as everyone finds this satisfactory,
      I am posting the following complete e-mail from Ben, which includes his response to the possibility of writing his autobiography;
      “Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your words, and the real strength they carry. After talking as I do every day when they aren’t nearby, with family, I sat for as long as it took for the impending frost to persuade me to go inside to the fire, after looking at the wonderful stars in a deep, clear moonless sky. Jupiter is almost overhead in the early evening here and not far away high in the east, bright Saturn. Both occupying places against the backdrop of the very centre of our galaxy, or Milky Way in popular words. I have this inarticulate conviction that there is something in that vastness that will have much importance to us, as a species, but that it won’t be anything as ‘simple’ as aliens, but some deeper insight into what goes on in the cosmos, and whether or not there is a purpose to it all.
      One thing journalism has taught me is that every life is quite incredible, so it has really been my privilege as a reporter to be the person with the quill pen so to speak who records and marvels at the aural histories of the famous, the infamous, and those who apart from the legendary 15 minutes of fame, lead superb yet unsung lives. It is the same reason I really enjoy it when good people like yourself write to me, because they add to my ‘compass’ or ‘encompass’ of the human condition.
      I might do something, but of course more important stories will always arise.
      I hope to have years, rather than months. If possible more than a few years, but I will always be grateful for what time I have had.
      Best regards
      Ben”

      ….and then this closing paragraph from another e-mail;
      “Life has been good to me all my years, and it is possible I will need to let go sooner than anticipated.
      Not to be bitter and twisted over this, just a bit regretful that not everything I wanted to see come to pass will do so in my time”

      When I re-read these e-mails, I found myself even more strongly moved than I was at the time.
      I’d hoped at the time, that my response to Ben wasn’t too negative or morbid.? (Unfortunately, I appeared to have actually underestimated the aggressiveness of his condition)

      I was shocked & deeply saddened by the announcement of the death of Ben.
      Even though I was aware of his illness, I had hoped for the best & was anticipating his passing as not happening before next year & hopefully later than that.
      I found him to be a wise, knowledgeable & very interesting individual and I’m disappointed that I never got to meet him in person.
      That said, I still regarded him as a friend & the death of a friend is always hard to bear.

      Whether there is an afterlife of any description or whether he remains just in the memory of those of us who ‘knew’ him, I am pleased to have known him & to have regarded him as a friend.
      The world is the worse for his loss & the better for his existence.

  14. PeterP.Syd

    Ben Sandilands was an aviation writer without peer. He wrote as a highly informed credible non-aviator with a burning passion for aviation. He communicated clearly, succinctly and always with respect for the truth. Plane Talking has been on my daily must-read list for longer than I can remember, only now realising its been nearly 10 years. Ben leaves a huge void that cannot be filled. Others will write, and be read, but not with the style, perspective, clarity and passion of Ben. Bon voyage on your final flight Ben.

  15. StickShaker

    Sad news indeed. This is the end of an era for aviation journalism in Australia. No doubt there will other journalists to follow but we will never have another Ben Sandilands – he was truly unique. Not only did Ben have the technical knowledge he understood the workings of politics – within and outside the industry.
    I hope you are on your way to a better place Ben – and I am sure you are now travelling at the pointy end of the aircraft in the utmost luxury that you thoroughly deserve.
    Goodbye from StickShaker Ben.

  16. Paul H

    Couldn’t believe it when someone signalled it on Twitter. Anyone with any level of interest in aviation, and who read his stuff over the years in The Herald, as well as latterly now, here, will be saddened, as the Plane Talk regulars are.
    In my book he was up there with William Langeweische and Christine Negroni; though each with their different skills and areas. We’ll really miss you Ben, and condolences to his family and loved ones.

  17. Rodney Pearce

    🙁 Very sad news. This blog was an excellent resource and he’ll be sorely missed.

  18. maxcelcat

    Hey please find a way to continue this blog. Find someone (or possibly someones) to keep it running, it’s unique in Australia and rare around the world.

  19. anonflightattendant

    What a huge loss not only to journalism but to the airline industry. Ben’s work at its essence embodied the pursuit of effective communication and human/hardware/company factors that so many airlines talk about but don’t put into practice. How lucky we have been to have had him on the side of the good guys. Condolences.

  20. Zarathrusta

    I have come back from an overseas holiday to this very sad news.
    I hope all his loved ones are doing well and only thank him for some wonderful reporting over the years. He leave a gap in aviation reporting that few people could fill on their own.

  21. Needlemeyer

    Vale Ben, Indeed. I always enjoyed his blog and found him to be most informative and interesting.
    I have no doubt he’s up there in the clouds, it wouldn’t be right otherwise.

  22. PhilD

    I am deeply saddened to learn of Ben’s passing. We have lost a marvelous spirit, incisive writer, and an invaluable guide to making some sense of current-day existence. I regret that I will never have the opportunity to buy him a pint.

    “If there is nothing new on the earth, still the traveler always has a resource in the skies. They are constantly turning a new page to view. The wind sets the types on this blue ground, and the inquiring may always read a new truth there. There are things there written with such fine and subtle tinctures, paler than the juice of limes, that to the diurnal eye they leave no trace, and only the chemistry of night reveals them. Every man’s daylight firmament answers in his mind to the brightness of the vision in his starriest hour.” Thoreau

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