YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

3 From O.C. Aboard Fatal Flight

Crash: Families, friends grieve for Garden Grove pilot, Newport Beach businessman and Mission Viejo flight attendant.


Three Orange County residents were among the 230 passengers and crew members who died aboard TWA Flight 800: a Mission Viejo flight attendant, a Newport Beach business executive and a veteran Garden Grove pilot who was at the controls when the plane exploded.

Relatives and friends hoped for the best, but officials on Thursday soon confirmed their worst fears. The casualties included flight attendant Melinda Torche, 46; businessman William Story, 51; and pilot Ralph G. Kevorkian, 58.

"When I heard the news last night, I had a gut-wrenching feeling and turned to my wife and said I hoped it wasn't Ralph," said Don Ziegler of Diamond Bar, a longtime friend. "I knew Ralph had gone back to flying 747s. I just feel terrible."

Kevorkian was a thoughtful, meticulous man less than two years from mandatory retirement and looking forward to indulging his passion for skeet shooting, his friends and neighbors said Thursday.

Kevorkian apparently spent his entire career as a commercial pilot at TWA, joining the airline in 1965. He had been a captain on L-1011s for several years, friends said. About six months ago, he was requalified to fly 747s and had only recently begun flying a route from New York to Paris and Rome.

News that Kevorkian was co-piloting TWA Flight 800 rocked the quiet cul de sac of early 1960s ranch-style homes where he lived with former flight attendant Christine Enlow, his second wife.

"He was a wonderful person, just a great guy," said neighbor John J. Hedding, who lives across the street from Kevorkian.

Kevorkian was classified as airline transport pilot, qualified to handle large fixed-wing aircraft with single or multiple engines, according to federal database records. He was given a first-class medical rating last September and was apparently recertified in March.

Kevorkian was also under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration for landing a plane that was over the maximum landing weight, an FAA official said Thursday. The agency was considering suspending Kevorkian's license for 30 days after a May 10 incident in which he landed a TWA L-1011, three-engine jumbo jet in St. Louis with too much fuel.

Kevorkian had loaded the plane with extra fuel for the trip from Los Angeles, anticipating that he would be stuck in a holding pattern in St. Louis, forced to circle the area before landing, according to the FAA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In fact, he was able to land right away, and the extra fuel put the plane's weight above the maximum allowed.

FAA rules allow planes to be weigh more on takeoff than on landing, when there is a significant amount of stress put on the aircraft. Kevorkian should have rejected the chance to land right way and burned off more fuel before landing, the official said.

The case had not yet been decided.

On Thursday, no one appeared to be home at Kevorkian's single-story house with blue trim and tidy yard. Hedding said he often saw Kevorkian tinkering in his garage, reloading shells for skeet shooting.

"This a terrible tragedy," said Daniel Herrera, who lives three doors down. "They were the perfect couple."

When Kevorkian wasn't flying or rushing off to shooting tournaments, neighbors said he and his wife were often seen taking off for the mountains in their worn Suncrest camper van.

Kevorkian also liked to hunt, especially red-leg partridge, which Ziegler said he did every year when the season opened.

Although he was looking forward to retirement, Ziegler said Kevorkian opposed the idea of forced retirement at age 60. "He didn't like that," Ziegler said.

News of Kevorkian's death shook the small, clubby world of American-style skeet shooting, a form of the sport that features different gauges of guns and target distances than international competition.

Both Kevorkian and Ziegler were part of the five-man team that won the California Skeet Shooting championship in 1994 and 1995.

"He was one of the top shooters in Southern California," said Bill Page of Torrance, who, like Kevorkian, is a commercial pilot. "From what I knew of him, my impression was that he had to be an extremely good pilot."

Page said he often talked with Kevorkian about flying. "He was very meticulous, very observant, very thorough," Page added. "He talked about how he continually had to be aware of what was going on around him."

Ziegler said Kevorkian spoke of growing up in an Armenian neighborhood in Los Angeles. Kevorkian's parents reportedly live in Woodland Hills; his son, by his first wife, lives in New York.

"He was one of the good guys," said Tom Horton of Anaheim Hills, another longtime shooting buddy. "He never had a cross word for anybody."

Melinda Torche

Melinda Torche had three loves: doting on her 18-year-old son, Trevor, roaring down the road on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and taking to the skies as a flight attendant for TWA.

Los Angeles Times Articles