Short Bios of Flight 261 Passengers
Those aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261 included a family of six, a firefighter who loved risk, a pilot who also was a safety instructor for the airline, a writing instructor on vacation and an off-duty flight attendant who had flown family and friends to Mexico for an impromptu birthday party. A thumbnail look at their lives:
Robert Ost considered risk part of the job and part of life.
A 15-year veteran of the South San Francisco Fire Department, he was also an avid paraglider and mountain climber.
``To me, what he always did was risk, but he was always safe in doing it,″ said John Lucia, an assistant fire chief who gathered with co-workers at the Ost home Tuesday.
Ost, his wife Ileana _ who worked for the airline as a customer service representative _ and their daughter Emily all were on Flight 261, said South San Francisco Department Chief Russ Lee.
Another couple, Jean Permison, Ileana Ost’s mother, and Charles Russell, both of Scotts Valley, also were aboard the flight.
Lee said Robert Ost was ``the kind of person that people like to work around. Everybody is just really shocked. It’s a tremendous loss to our department.″
Flags at fire departments throughout San Mateo County flew at half-staff Tuesday.
Fellow firefighters at the station were in shock, Lucia said.
``It’s pretty somber. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.″
Family and friends of Alaska Airlines Capt. Ted Thompson, the pilot of Flight 261, gathered at his Redlands, Calif., home Tuesday to grieve and console. A sign on the door read, ``The family is in seclusion. Please respect our privacy and our grief.″
Thompson’s son, Fred, his voice breaking, thanked well-wishers, offered his family’s sympathy and asked for privacy.
Ted Thompson, 53, flew C-141 cargo planes for eight years for the Air Force before becoming a commercial jet pilot for Alaska Airlines in 1982. He had 10,000 flying hours with Alaska Airlines, and was a flight safety instructor for the company.
After a student died two months ago, University of San Francisco teacher Jean Gandesbery turned sadly to a colleague and said, ``We never really do know how much time we have.″
``It was really prophetic and really sad,″ said Lisa Morana, interim director of USF’s Sacramento campus, where Mrs. Gandesbery taught writing as an adjunct instructor.
Mrs. Gandesbery and her husband, Robert Gandesbery, were returning from a vacation aboard Flight 261. Mrs. Gandesbery just had her childhood memoirs published in a novel ``Seven Mile Lake.″ Her husband was retired.
``She really had a significant impact on all of her students. They did a lot of personal writing and they got to know each other very well,″ Morana said.
``They’re really nice people. They’re just such pleasant people,″ said Jerome Vigil, who was house-sitting for the couple and watching over their golden retrievers, Emma and Casey.
Linda and Joe Knight, co-pastors of the Rock Church Northwest in Monroe, Wash., had been in Puerto Vallarta doing missionary work after 15 years of outreach on the streets of Seattle.
The church’s weekly prayer meeting turned into a time of mourning. Members gathered to pray and told reporters they were told not to talk.
The Knights, in a July 1998 story in The Herald of Everett, Wash., said they gathered food, raised $3,700 to build showers and toilets and worked to buy a school building for teaching English and the Bible to children living in poverty. Much of the support came from corporations.
``As a team, we have been able to get companies like Alaska Airlines to donate food for the children,″ Mrs. Knight told the paper.
``This isn’t one of those things where we do a missionary trip and then forget about it,″ she said. ``This is going to be our lifelong work.″
Tom Stockley, 63, went to work for The Seattle Times in 1967 and six years later became the newspaper’s wine columnist.
His wife, Peggy, 62, was an animal lover and community activist who had worked for the Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Youth Symphony and other organizations. Most recently, she edited the Floating Homes Association newsletter. They both graduated from the University of Washington School of Communications.
The Stockleys were well known in their close-knit houseboat community.
``They were just the gentlest souls and always willing to help neighbors,″ said neighbor Jan Knutson.
``It’s a very good reminder to us that when we cover tragedies, we’re writing about people who are loved,″ said Times managing editor Alex MacLeod.
In 1998, Stockley was recognized at an international conference in Seattle for expanding public knowledge about wine and wine production.
``His impact was tremendous,″ said Simon Siegl, president of the American Vintners Association. ``He was there at the beginning before anybody was aware of the Washington wine industry and a strong advocate from the start.″
Morris Thompson, 61, was one of Alaska’s most prominent Native and business leaders.
``A really big Alaskan tree fell today,″ said Byron Mallott, who recently stepped down as executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.
Thompson, his wife, Thelma, and daughter Sheryl had been in Mexico for a vacation.
Thompson retired last month as president and chief executive officer of Doyon Ltd., a Native corporation formed in 1971 as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The corporation has 12.5 million acres of land, making it the largest private landowner in the United States.
When Thompson took over Doyon in 1985, it had an operating loss of $28 million. When he retired, it was generating $70.9 million in annual revenues, had 900 employees and 14,000 stockholders.
Thompson was a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the Nixon years. He was only 34 when he was appointed Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also was a cabinet-level officer in Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel’s first administration.
``He is a great Native leader, very personable, down to earth,″ said Sharon McConnell, a co-host of ``Dialogue with Doyon″ that aired on Alaska Public Radio until Thompson retired. ``I think a lot of us are in shock about this.″
Cynthia Oti was an investment broker who knew how to save and how to spend, how to work and how to play.
``She enjoyed life,″ said Greg Raab, public relations and marketing manager for San Francisco radio station KSFO, where Oti was host of a nightly radio show on investing.
``She told people to save and have a plan for the future, but not to deny oneself. She said it on the air and she lived it.″
Colleagues said Oti’s career as a broadcaster was beginning to take off. For four years, she did a three-hour Sunday show, but last spring, KSFO asked her to take on a prime-time, Monday-through-Friday slot. She indulged herself by buying a Jaguar.
She had treated herself to a weekend getaway in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where Flight 261 originated. She loved the music of Eric Clapton and collected expensive champagne.
Oti was supposed to go on the air two hours after the flight was scheduled to land in San Francisco.
``It’s terrible news for us,″ talk show host Gene Burns told listeners. ``Many of us have lost a friend, a colleague and an absolutely, thoroughly delightful human being.″
``She was always willing to lend her professional advice,″ Burns said. ``If someone was having a financial difficulty, she did her level best to guide them through the shoals of that experience.″
State government workers in Olympia, Wash., were mourning the loss of Don Shaw, a former Snohomish County school principal and librarian who ran tour programs at the Legislative Building.
Shaw, 63, was a father of six and grandfather of 13.
``He was just a really warm person, incredibly well-liked,″ said Sandy DeShaw, manager of visitor services at the Capitol. ``He felt like he was contributing in a positive way.
``It’s a huge loss to us. His friends and co-workers are just incredibly saddened.″
Secretary of State Ralph Munro set a wreath outside his office with a book in which people could express condolences to Shaw’s family, including his wife Earlene, who works in the legislative members’ cafeteria.
Gilbert Manning of Spokane, Wash., hoped in vain that his youngest daughter, Sarah Pearson, 36, of Seattle, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant on vacation, was not on the plane.
``I think she could calm the world, just by her smile. She could make people laugh all the time,″ Manning said.
Lost with her in the crash were her husband, Rod Pearson, co-owner of two Seattle restaurants, and their children, Rachel, 6, and Grace, 23 months.
``Rod was finally at a time in his life where he could take some time off,″ Manning said.
``God has a funny way of making you suffer,″ he said. ``I feel like Job right now.″
Former San Francisco police office Karl Karlsson and his wife, Carol, lived a life focused on fun and parties, friends and family said.
In their comfortable house south of Petaluma, Calif., the bar was always stocked, and the house featured a jukebox, a pinball machine and a bumper pool table. Outside, there was a hot tub, a pool and a riding lawn mower _ which they rode for both maintenance and amusement.
``I don’t remember him ever being intense, nor very serious. A lot of times he was happy-go-lucky, sort of having a good time,″ said Joe Fitzpatrick, who once worked with Karl.
The couple had been on vacation in Mexico, where they went almost every year.
The two met while shooting pool in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.
``Carol kicked his butt,″ said Lisa Champion, Karlsson’s older daughter.
Carol Karlsson, 42, was born and raised in San Francisco. She recently retired from her job as an office manager in the city.
Karl Karlsson, 51, a native Icelander, built his home 23 years ago. Recently, he erected on his property a shed that looks like a church. He said its Scandinavian architecture reminded him of his native land.
Allison Shanks, 33, one of the three Alaska Airlines flight attendants aboard the doomed plane, was born in Plainview, on Long Island. The family moved twice within New York, then to Los Angeles and York, Pa., before settling in Lassaquah, Wash., according to her aunt Joan Bourginon.
``On Christmas Day, they used to come to our house, and then we would go to my sister’s house in Somers (N.Y.) and they would try on clothes,″ Bourginon said.
Toni Choate, a Santa Cruz man who was living as a woman, was returning to the San Francisco Bay area with his daughter, Jacquelyn, after vacationing in Mexico.
Choate was a general contractor and cabinet finisher originally from Visalia, Calif. He was formerly known as Larry D. Choate, but changed his name and started living as a woman in the mid 1990s, according to friends and relatives in the San Joaquin Valley.
Until the early 1990s, Larry Choate worked with his father building houses in the Visalia area.
He then moved to Sacramento, living there about five years and building redwood decks for condominiums, said Vicki Elliott, a friend. Sometime during that period, Choate began to identify himself as a woman.
Choate moved to Santa Cruz in 1995 and bought the Savoy Bar in Santa Clara, Calif. About a year ago, Choate moved to San Francisco.
Jacquelyn Choate grew up in Sacramento.
``He was an excellent father, as far as taking her places and showing her things,″ Elliott said. ``They were real close.″
Dean Forshee, 47, of Benicia, Calif., devoted his life to music.
The professional musician was a skilled pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitar player who taught lessons. His favorite styles were country and rockabilly, and he played with several local bands.
``He was always the most disciplined of musicians. He always complained that the other musicians would not watch me for the cut-off,″ said Sheila Hittle, music director at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church, where Forshee performed since the 1970s.
He had been married for five years to Susan da Silva after meeting her through a personal advertisement.
Larry Baldridge was a savvy businessman taking advantage of the Internet boom.
He began to set up a venture capital business with Michael Schwab, the son of legendary brokerage leader Charles Schwab.
Baldridge, of Novato, Calif., had joined his girlfriend Nina Voronoff, 32, who had gone to Mexico for a yoga retreat. The two then spent a 10-day vacation there.
A nurse at the University of California, San Francisco, Voronoff worked in the pediatric cancer unit.
At Creditland Inc., which offers online credit to consumers, Baldridge was vice president of business development.
``Every deal I do is something I learned from him,″ said Schwab, who worked under Baldridge at Creditland, a startup in San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch area.
``He was an Internet guru who knew how to put together a finance deal,″ he said Tuesday.
Naomi and Rodrigo Laigo of Fairfield, Calif., were on vacation in Mexico enjoying one of their favorite leisure pursuits: golf.
The couple were remembered also for their devotion to their family, especially their three sons.
``They were nice people, the type of people who have their priorities together, the type of people you really want in your neighborhood,″ said their friend, Francis Gella.
Rodrigo Laigo, 53, was an engineer for Arco. Naomi, 53, was a nurse at a clinic in San Leandro and grew roses in her spare time.
The couple had recently moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles.
Aloysius Han often traveled to Mexico, where he owned a condominium and other property.
He worked as an architect for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for nearly two decades, retiring in 1989.
After retirement, Han, 65, lived with his mother in Oakland and spent much of his time caring for exotic birds, his koi pond and a garden.
Renato Bermudez of San Francisco was a firefighter who helped save a life in July 1998.
He and another firefighter used a ladder to rescue the victim from the second floor of a burning building in the city’s Mission District.
He won commendations from a booster group for the action.
The San Francisco fire department lowered its flags to half-staff in mourning.
Barbara, 64, and Glenn Hatleberg, 65, retirees from Eugene, Ore., regularly made wintertime trips to the Puerto Vallarta area.
``I know this year they planned on spending less time there than they had in the past,″ said lawyer Laurence Thorp, who has done work for the family since 1972. ``As Glenn told me, ’You know, you can only fish so many days in a row.‴
Glenn Hatleberg owned and operated Alert Electric Inc. with several family members.
James J. Ryan celebrated his 30th birthday by flying family and friends to an impromptu party in Puerto Vallarta.
``They supported each other and encouraged each member’s dreams and ambitions,″ said Bob Merz, a family friend.
Ryan, a Portland, Ore.-based flight attendant whose hometown was listed as Redmond, Wash., was aboard the flight with his parents, Terry and Barbara, of Redmond, his brother, Bradford, and friend Russell Ing, recently of Eugene, Ore.
Ryan ``loved to travel. He would go anywhere anytime,″ said a friend, Shannon Nanna.
Nanna said Ing, 28, was an artistically talented man who sold his handiwork at Saturday Market in Portland.
``He was a quiet, gentle, thoughtful person,″ she said.
Karen W. Morse, president of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., said seven alumni and two former students were on Flight 261.
``We lost several really good graduates,″ Art Department chairman Thomas Johnston said. ``They all took chances with their art work. They were going to make a difference in the world.″
Deborah Penna, 27, studied art in 1990. Ryan, 28, and Abigail Busche, 25, of Seattle, graduated in 1996. Michael Paul Bernard, 30, of Seattle, received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1992.
Other crash victims affiliated with Western Washington included Robert Thorgrimson, James Joseph Ryan, Colleen Whorley, Monte Donaldson and Russell Ing.
Avinesh Amit Deo, 23, was to begin a new job with All Pro Power Washing and Castings in Seattle.
Deo, whose family immigrated from Fiji in 1995, graduated from ITT Technical Institute in December with a degree in computer-aided drafting.
He had gone to Puerto Vallarta with two cousins, Avinash Prasad and Anjesh Prasad, both 19, to celebrate his graduation and new career.
``He was so excited about it,″ said Laura Nielsen, ITT director of career services.
Avinash Prasad was a warehouse worker at HomeGrocer.com in the Seattle suburb of Renton. ``He was known as the Fiji Flash″ for his prowess on the company soccer team, said Rick Lessley, the company’s director of operations.
Anjesh Prasad worked for Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air as a ground service agent.
Sheri Christensen, 25, a Horizon Air ground-service agent, ``would have made a great mom,″ said a girl for whom she used to baby-sit.
``She was really funny, really outgoing. She was like a best friend,″ said Jessalyn Orrino, 15.
Christensen, of Seattle, met her husband, Jeff Christensen, in high school. He was not on the flight.
Sheri Christensen was a volleyball aficionado who had planned to begin school as a personal trainer next month.
Bob Williams, 65, of Suquamish, Wash., was a retired Air Force colonel. His wife, Patty Williams, 63, twice was president of the annual North Kitsap Arts and Crafts Fair.
They spent two weeks in Mexico with friends Robert and Lorna Thorgrimson.
Since Williams retired from the Air Force 20 years ago, he and his wife traveled extensively. In the past year, they visited Panama and Alaska.
They already had tickets for a trip to Florida’s Walt Disney World in June, daughter Tracy Knizek said. She has two brothers.
Stacy Schuyler, 20, a ground service agent for Horizon Air, lived in Federal Way, Wash., and was a 1997 graduate of Puyallup High School.
She is survived by her parents, George and Colleen Schuyler of Milton, Wash.
Joan Smith lived in Belmont, Calif., where she was married and had three children.
``All I can say is that Joan was a very loving mother and grandmother,″ her husband said.
Juan Marquez, 34, worked hard, flew often and relaxed whenever he could at one of the two condos he and his partner, Dale Rettinger, had in Puerto Vallarta.
He was returning to San Francisco, where the two sold adult-education textbooks. Rettinger had stayed behind.
``He had a big heart,″ Silverio Montoya said while standing on a beach, where he had come to say goodbye. ``Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about Juan.″