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Plane Crash Kills 3 Charity Members

Accident: Medical volunteers from Flying Samaritans were doing work in remote Baja California.

May 23, 2000|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three volunteers from Flying Samaritans, a cross-border charity providing medical care to residents in remote portions of Baja California, died when their airplane crashed about 180 miles south of Tijuana.

The pilot, dental hygienist and medical assistant were from the group's Mother Lode chapter in Northern and Central California.

"Members of the Flying Samaritans are a very close-knit group of people," said Raymond H. Clark, board president for the umbrella grouping of 10 chapters in California, Arizona and Mexico. "An accident such as this is devastating to us."

Clark said it was the first fatal crash involving a Flying Samaritans aircraft during his 20 years as president.

Municipal police in Ensenada said fishermen saw the airplane, a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza, plunge toward an oyster-farming section of San Quintin Bay shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday. Two witnesses who went by boat to the watery crash site found the bodies of two women and a man.

U.S. consular officials in Tijuana identified the dead as Robert App, 65, of Windsor; Mary Thompson, 54, of Petaluma; and Christine Nichols, 30, of Elk Grove.

A chapter official said App was pilot, Thompson a dental hygienist and Nichols a medical assistant. The Mother Lode chapter has provided free medical services at a small clinic near San Quintin for more than a decade.

Chapter Vice President Bruce Forrest said the plane was one of two carrying San Quintin volunteers. They were among 30 or so airplanes ferrying Flying Samaritans throughout Baja California over the weekend. The group's chapters typically schedule monthly trips on the same weekend.

Forrest, a registered nurse from Calaveras County, said the three worked in a clinic called San Simon, where volunteers treat health problems ranging from diabetes and chronic pain and pull teeth and perform surgeries.

He said the crash "saddens all of us, but it won't stop us."

San Quintin is an impoverished agricultural hub whose scenic, saltwater bay is a popular destination for sportfishing and hunting enthusiasts from Southern California.

Flying Samaritan volunteers provide free medical services to residents of isolated zones where doctors are scarce and specialists--such as eye doctors and dentists--are virtually nonexistent.

"We are very careful not to compete with local doctors. We work with local doctors," Clark said.

The group was founded in 1961, the brainchild of volunteer rescue pilot Aileen Saunders Mellott. Since then, members have helped out in places too isolated for easy access by car and now serve 17 clinics. Most volunteers travel by private plane, examining and treating patients with the help of Spanish-speaking interpreters.

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