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On the Getz Ice Shelf of Antarctica sits a narrow piece of land that juts out over the ocean, called Beyl Head.
For decades, David Beyl, the headland’s namesake, had no idea the site existed. In the mid-1970s, an Antarctic naming committee attached Beyl’s name to the landmark, in recognition for his time spent on the continent. But no one told him, until a nephew made the discovery online.
“He called him up and said, ‘You know there’s a piece of Antarctica named after you?’” another nephew, Charlie Beyl recalled. “He was shocked. He thought it was pretty fun.”
Retired Cmdr. David Beyl, a longtime Mercer Island resident and career Navy pilot who did several tours abroad, including in Antarctica, died March 23 at Overlake Hospital. He was 85.
Beyl had been diagnosed with COVID-19 four days before his death, according to his daughter Susan McDonnell. He had fallen a day earlier at his apartment at Overlake Terrace in Redmond and was taken to the emergency room, where he tested positive for the virus. He “went downhill very fast,” McDonnell said.
Beyl was part of a team deployed to Antarctica with Operation Deep Freeze to recover two LC-130 planes that had crashed in an extremely remote area. Beyl and the team spent months living near the crash site, with temperatures well below freezing, repairing the planes that they then flew directly off the ice field.
“Nobody had undertaken that kind of a task before,” Beyl told the Mercer Island Reporter in 2008. “I always felt that we were really out on a limb. If we failed, we had everything to lose.”
He kept two journals, one for McDonnell and one for daughter Stacia, during his deployments, writing in perfect cursive what he experienced in the frozen land and about his growing up as the son of second-generation German immigrants in Wisconsin. His childhood hadn’t been easy; he was born during the Great Depression, and when Beyl was a teenager, his older brother was killed in a crop-duster accident.
He married Sandra Beyl two weeks after he graduated from Officer Candidate School and was designated a naval aviator. They were married for 61 years, until Sandra’s death in 2017. His career required that the two live abroad and then throughout the U.S., moving often with their three daughters — McDonnell, Stacia Beyl and Anne Oransky — in tow. He would be gone for months at a time, but would write letters consistently. Sandra kept a scrapbook with his letters, noting the unique postage markings of the messages from faraway places. He wasn’t overly affectionate, McDonnell said, but he expressed what he felt in writing.
He retired soon after his Antarctica deployments, and the family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he began a second career as a woodworker. Soon after, they bought a house in Mercer Island. Beyl ran his own business, called Common Sense Woodwork. He loved the Pacific Northwest. He paddled his canoe, ran through the woods, went snowshoeing in the mountains. He loved exploring — even if it was in places where he wasn’t supposed to be.
“My dad was known where if places were closed, and there was a chain-link gate, he would go under it and check it out,” McDonnell said.
After Sandra’s death, Beyl sold the Mercer Island house and moved to a senior-care facility in Renton. He loved watching through his bedroom window the planes take off from the Boeing factory. But he wanted to be closer to where had lived for so many years, so he moved an independent-living apartment in Overlake Terrace.
The apartment still has his belongings inside — all three daughters live outside Washington and haven’t been able to travel. He had made his own funeral arrangements with Sandra, and even created the box he wanted his ashes in himself.
His ashes were put next to his wife’s at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. But the box he wanted still sits in storage.
The family hasn’t figured out when they’ll hold a funeral. A month after his death, they’re still left with questions: How did he contract the deadly virus? Did anyone else get it?
“He’s a statistic, and that’s sort of weird,” McDonnell said. “You always think, ‘Oh, it will happen to somebody else.’ But it happened to us.”