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Ventura County

Relatives Gather to Mark Jet Crash

Anniversary: Victims of the Alaska Airlines tragedy will be remembered at events in the county. A site for a memorial monument will be dedicated.

January 30, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two years after Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed off the Ventura County coast, several dozen relatives and friends of those who perished will reunite Thursday for low-key memorial events planned throughout the area.

The second anniversary will start with a service at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Westlake Village, followed by a picnic at Oak Canyon Park in Oak Park.

After lunch, the group will visit Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, where there is a memorial to the unidentified remains recovered from the crash.

Eighty-three passengers and five crew members died Jan. 31, 2000, when the jetliner from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, plunged into the Pacific Ocean. There were no survivors.

"It's not something you really ever get over. It's something you deal with that is always there," said Stephen Campbell, a project manager hired by the airline to work with the families.

Later Thursday afternoon, there will be a ceremony at Port Hueneme Beach Park to dedicate the site for a $350,000 bronze sundial memorial to be installed later this year.

Some May Visit Site of Jet's Plunge

The day's events will end at 4:22 p.m., the time federal officials say the San Francisco-bound plane went down. Some people also may visit the crash site near Anacapa Island on Friday morning.

"We will always have this in our memory bank," said Larry Michael, general manager of Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Mortuary, who spent more than a year counseling grieving families.

Most of the approximately 60 family members and friends are expected to arrive today. Some will have traveled from as far away as Alaska, Florida and Washington state.

For Jay Ryan of Covina, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and two nephews in the jetliner crash, the reunion will allow him to comfort others with a handshake or a hug, and receive some comfort back.

"Each year we still have memories and each year we like returning to this spot because it feels like we are able to be closer to the ones we loved," Ryan said.

Ryan and members of several other families have spent the last two years organizing plans for the Port Hueneme memorial. On Tuesday, he visited a North Hollywood foundry that has been hired to cast the sundial.

Names to Be Placed on Monument

The monument, which will contain the names of every crash victim, was designed by Santa Barbara artist James "Bud" Bottoms, whose sculptures are displayed throughout the world.

"We're hoping for completion in October or November and would like to dedicate during a third anniversary next year," Campbell said.

Sandy Gilbert of Clinton, Wash., plans to attend that event. The math teacher, who lost her sister, Janice Stokes, came to the much larger, first anniversary but can't make it this year.

"If I had the time and the money I'd be there in a heartbeat," Gilbert said.

"It's a beautiful place to be by the water and being around the other people really helps."

Ryan and Gilbert have spent the last two years attending support meetings held each month in Seattle for grieving relatives and friends.

Ryan has a daughter who is a flight attendant for another airline and helps him and his wife arrange discounted tickets.

The meetings, hosted by family members, will continue for as long as necessary, Gilbert said.

"Some people have remained stuck in a space they can't move on from and others have slowly moved on," Gilbert said.

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