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Friday, October 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Chuck West, pioneer in Alaska tours

Seattle Times business reporter

Chuck West, a one-time bush pilot who fell in love with Alaska's craggy wilderness after World War II and started one of the first Alaska tourism companies, died Tuesday in his cabin in Haines, Alaska. He was 90.

Mr. West had lived with his family in the Seattle area since the 1950s and founded Seattle-based Cruise West after he sold his first company to Holland America.

Cruise West, now led by Mr. West's son, Dick, has become the largest small-ship cruise line in Alaska, with eight vessels offering nature-focused cruises from the Alaskan Panhandle to the Arctic Circle.

The company's vice president, John Kreilkamp, said Mr. West was involved with the business till the end, just two weeks ago asking to discuss a new itinerary he thought Cruise West might offer.

"He was probably one of the most charismatic people I've ever met," Kreilkamp said.

In 1946, while working as a pilot for Fairbanks-based Wien Airlines, Mr. West organized air tours to Nome and to the Eskimo village of Kotzbue on the Arctic coast.

As the air-tour company grew, he started a hotel chain for tourists, a fleet of tour coaches and an Inside Passage cruise line. The company, called Westours, established its headquarters in Seattle and thrived for two decades. In the early '70s, when a union dispute left him in financial difficulty, Mr. West sold his company to Holland America and continued to work there.

Holland America and he parted ways, leaving Mr. West briefly without a job in the industry he had helped start.

"He was furious, but he wasn't defeated," said Stan Patty, a former Seattle Times travel writer who covered Mr. West for years and got to know him well.

"This guy didn't know anything about quitting."

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At age 58, Mr. West began again with Cruise West, which offers cruises on eight vessels carrying up to 114 passengers. In addition to Alaska, the company visits Oregon and California, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, and next year plans to expand into Japan.

Patty said Mr. West, in a Seattle hospital with a terminal illness, recently asked his family to join him on one last trip to his cabin in Haines.

He is survived by his wife, Marguerite; three daughters, CarraLee Bolger, Barbara West and Ral West; his son, Dick; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Tom Boyer: 206-464-2923 or tboyer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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