Geographic Mourns the Rowells, Killed in Air Crash

By Cathy Healy
for National Geographic News
August 14, 2002

Noted nature and adventure photographer Galen Rowell and aviation adventurer and writer Barbara Cushman Rowell—who were killed in a private plane crash early Sunday in California—were mourned by friends and colleagues at the National Geographic Society this week.

Barbara, an accomplished pilot, was not flying the aircraft that crashed near their home town of Bishop, in the eastern part of the state.

The Rowells moved their gallery to Bishop in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada from the Bay Area last year.

Barbara had just written a book, Flying South, for Ten Speed Press about her adventures flying a 25,000-mile journey around Latin America. The book is due out in October.

"Galen had a unique way of seeing nature and light, and that in my mind, made him the Ansel Adams of his generation," said Gordon Wiltsie, a high-altitude photographer who shoots for National Geographic.

"It's safe to say that Galen started a genre," said Wiltsie. "He was the first modern adventure photographer. That doesn't mean he was the first adventure photographer, but Galen had his own way of seeing things at a time when young people were really discovering the outdoors. His pictures became icons for millions of people. Certainly for me. I met Galen in 1969 when I was 16 years old. Galen was my mentor and he became a very close friend of mine."

Galen Rowell was due to arrive at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. next Tuesday, where he and his editor, Bert Fox, planned to spend the next week going through 165 rolls of film that Galen shot in Tibet. The schedule called for Galen to present the final show to Editor-in-Chief Bill Allen and the senior editors at the end of the month, then the slides would go to layout.

The story involved research that Galen, cinematographer-writer Rick Ridgeway, and climber Conrad Anker were doing for George Schaller for the National Geographic Expeditions Council. Schaller has been studying behavior, population, and poaching of chiru, a Tibetan antelope, since the 1980s. (Schaller wrote about his research in August 1993 for National Geographic magazine, "In a High and Sacred Realm: Tibet's Remote Chang Tang.")

"We haven't even begun to edit," said Bert Fox. "Rick has offered to help us complete the story posthumously."

Although Galen Rowell has shot a number of National Geographic articles, this was his first NGM assignment since 1989. "Galen is an accomplished book photographer, was running a lecture series, had workshops he directed—he and Barbara had things going on all the time," said Fox.

Fox said he and Galen had been in frequent contact for the past couple of weeks by satellite phone, making preparations for next week's editing. Galen and Barbara had been on a cruise in the Bering Sea, where he and National Geographic contributing photographer-in-residence Frans Lanting were lecturers.

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