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Memorial Held for Crash Victims

February 8, 2000

SAN MATEO, Calif. (AP) _ Eighty-eight monarch butterflies were released into the chilly air Monday afternoon by family and friends of the 88 passengers and crew killed in the Alaska Airlines crash a week ago.

``Each butterfly is a symbol of those we are remembering today,″ said Lanny Pinole, a Pomo/Miwok Indian spiritual leader.

As he spoke, he burned sage in a healing ritual, sending pungent smoke drifting into the eyes of about 800 grieving people, Red Cross volunteers and Coast Guard officers.

``Just like the soul, (the butterflies) have the ability to transcend from earth to heaven,″ Pinole said, referring to an Indian legend about butterflies carrying people’s secret wishes. ``Each time you see a butterfly it will be a reminder of the wish you made today.″

The butterflies were released at 4:26 p.m., the exact time that Flight 261 spiraled into the Pacific one week earlier.

Concluding the service, a Coast Guard helicopter circled overhead carrying two wicker chests full of flowers to be scattered into the Pacific Ocean along the plane’s intended flight path. Coastal fog grounded the helicopter Monday. Officials hoped to scatter the flowers in the ocean Tuesday.

Earlier, under a big white tent at the Bay Meadows racetrack, three company executives spoke, followed by leaders of the Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

``Please take the time to look into the eyes of our Eskimo, and remember the lives of those we have lost,″ said Cliff Argue, a vice president at the airline, which lost a large contingent of employees in the crash. The airline’s logo, on the tail of each of its planes, is an Eskimo.

The airline paid for the service, which was organized by the Red Cross.

The religious leaders urged people to accept that their loved ones are gone.

``May we be willing to give permission to them to be dead. It is the way to love and honor them now. It is the way they are now,″ said the Rev. Gerry O’Rourke, representing the archdiocese of San Francisco.

Christa Apelar lost her best friend, Jacqueline Choate, and the man Apelar considered her adoptive father, Toni Choate.

``I’ve never felt this kind of pain before. It’s indescribable,″ said Apelar, clutching an armful of long white carnations. ``I don’t know when I’ll be better. It was really good to see the butterflies though. Jacqui loved butterflies.″

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