CHICO — A man who loved his job as a computer technician but who lived by the motto “Don’t live a fear-based life” is how Bennett Riffel will be remembered by his co-workers and customers in Chico.
Riffel, of Chico, and his brother Melvin Riffel, of Redding, were among the eight Americans who died Sunday when the Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on its way to Kenya.
According to the Redding Record Searchlight, the brothers were on their last adventure before Melvin became a father. Wife Brittney Riffel is expected in the spring, and the brothers had dropped her off before heading on to Nairobi.
Flowers are being left at the bell tower at St. Joseph Church in Redding, in memory of Mel and Bennett Riffel, who were killed in aplane crash in Ethiopia. A prayer offering will be held Tuesday morning at 8:15. Everyone is welcome to attend, and leave flowers or light a candle. pic.twitter.com/QqBW9naGbQ
— Mike Mangas (@mikemangas) March 11, 2019
Bennett Riffel lived in Chico for several years and worked for Vista Net, an IT and computer services company for about six years, according to company partner Jeff Wiest, who gave Riffel a ride home nightly.
“He didn’t have a car, so I’d give him a ride,” Wiest said Tuesday, recalling that Bennett Riffel started with the company about six years ago when he was about 20.
Melvin Riffel worked at the California Department of Transportation District 2 office in Redding, according to the Record Searchlight, which also reported both brothers graduated from Shasta High School, Melvin in 2007 and Bennett in 2010.
“He was very down to earth. Everyone liked him,” said Wiest, who was Riffel’s supervisor, and called him smart and focused.
“He started as our purchasing agent. He never settled into that. He wanted to do technical work. A position opened up and he fit right in there. He picked things up very well and was on track to be an advance tech in a few years. He’d be doing everything I do.”
Wiest recalled that Riffel was “well read, well spoken, had a huge vocabulary, and was very realistic.”
What stands out in Wiest’s mind was his outlook on life. “His biggest thing was he’d say ‘Don’t live a fear-based life.’” Riffel’s brother Melvin enjoyed outdoor sports like snowboarding and motocross.
“Bennett called from Palestine. He told me that everything was going great. He was upbeat about having the best time,” Wiest recalled.
People gather at St. Joseph Church in Redding for prayer service for Mel and Bennett Riffel, the brothers who were among the 157 killed in Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash. pic.twitter.com/y8NNA2gWYG
— David Benda (@DavidBenda_RS) March 12, 2019
Wiest got a call from Riffel’s father, Ike Riffel, on Monday after the crash. The Chico office was preparing to move to a new location, but was waiting for Riffel to return to Chico to start the process.
It was Wiest who went to Morrison and Co. on Monday to tackle a stop that Riffel would have normally made.
“I was tied up in a meeting until late morning. Jeff called to me. He was practically in tears, and told us about Bennett,” said founder Brent Morrison Tuesday. “My jaw dropped. It was hard to get my heard around that. I called the team together, and most of the people started crying.”
Morrison said Riffel would service Morrison and Co.’s computers in the Chico office once or twice a week.
Being busy, the company’s employees don’t interact with vendors who come in for services, but that wasn’t the case with Riffel. Morrison said what stuck with him was Riffel’s dedication to solving the problem.
“He’s talking to you about the computer problem, trying to figure it out. He really shined in understanding how impacted your business was. You could tell he wanted to help.”
Morrison said the company was talking about inviting Riffel to the company’s annual picnic, which is for employees and their families.
“He didn’t have a minor part in this company,” Morrison said.
Wiest of Vista Net said the company has been getting calls from Riffel’s clients about sending cards to his parents and inquiring about a memorial.
All 157 people on board the Ethiopian jetliner were killed. A cause has not been determined.