Friends and family recall the joy Michael Chinna brought to their lives after the Fort Good Hope man died tragically while working for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation last month.
Chinna, who would have turned 40 on April 5, was in a fatal on-the-job accident at Yellowknife’s Jackfish Generating Plant.
The incident remains under investigation by the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC).
Longtime friend Armin Johnson, who lives in Whitehorse, heard the news while he was racing dogs in Alaska.
He recalled how he and Chinna became friends during their “formative” 20s while residing in Norman Wells in the 2000s.
At the time, Johnson was a federal employee while Chinna was working with Imperial Oil.
“We were the same age and we just hit it off,” Johnson said. “I don’t know too many guys like him. It’s just crazy how an accident like that can happen to the real bright lights of the world, like Mike.”
Over the years, the two grew apart geographically. Johnson moved to Whitehorse and raised a family while Chinna moved south.
Love of the land and travelling
But Chinna always kept in touch, made trips to Yukon to see Armin and planned excursions for the two on the land together.
Johnson said Chinna’s late father Alexis was a highly-skilled bushman and as a result the same enthusiasm and passion were passed on to Michael.
‘Young Mike,’ a nickname Chinna developed, loved the mountains and spoke of the Canol Trail often. It was a place he visited many times, Johnson said.
Chinna’s ability to navigate on the land and find people when they were located “in the middle of nowhere” was both funny and an amazing talent, his friend recalled.
“There is sort of a funny story that kind of connects a few of us. If Mike heard of a friend that was out in the bush, the first thing he would often try to do is get off work and go find them,” Johnson said. “It was almost like this challenge that he would take on and he would show up right at the moment you needed the most help.”
That Chinna was so well connected and that he passed away with family and friends by his side, made word of his death a little easier to accept, Johnson added.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have been dying alone while in hospital, he observed. For that reason it’s important that Chinna was with people who loved him during his final moments.
Strong work ethic and dedicated student
Samantha Bayha, Chinna’s partner for eight years, said the two met in Norman Wells in 2013. She remembered his strong work ethic and dedication to achieving a first-class power engineering classification.
She said his warmth to his family, children and people he knew were also strong parts of his character.
“He was just a great, caring and loving guy,” Bayha said. “He always worked hard and his motto was ‘No matter what.’
“Mike was definitely an outdoors person who loved the mountains and loved kids. His niece and nephews were his world.”
In 2014, Chinna moved to Whitecourt, Alta., where he attained a job with Genalta Power. During that time, he spent three to four hours a night studying independently toward his certification, Bayha said.
“He did that for four or five years almost and was pretty stoked to become a first-class power engineer,” she said.
Chinna was hired by NTPC in 2018 and attained a power systems electrician certification in 2019.
“He was always in touch with his mom. He called her every day to give her an update on his course and his life in Yellowknife,” said Bayha. “It was always his favourite thing to be learning and gaining on-the-job training experience.”
She spoke to his sense of humour and love of travelling.
“He was always full of jokes and was one of the funniest people I knew,” she said. “He was always big on traveling, spent a lot of time in Ireland and always talked about travelling.”
Chinna was expected to return to Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in May to finish his studies in first-class power engineering.
He is survived by his mother Una and his sisters Nancy, Cathy and Jill.
A memorial is expected to be announced for this summer, pending Covid-19 restrictions being eased for gatherings.