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Victims of Alaska Air Crash Mourned

February 6, 2000

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) _ Eighty-eight white doves _ one for each victim of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 _ were released into the California sky Saturday as hundreds of people left a memorial service honoring the victims of last week’s crash.

``All of California aches with you,″ Gov. Gray Davis told the mourners gathered at the fieldhouse on Pepperdine University’s oceanside campus. ``The men and women aboard Flight 261 were our friends, our families, our neighbors.″

Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, one of six clergy members who spoke during the service, told mourners: ``We want you to know there is a tomorrow. Life will go on. ... We are stronger because they lived.″

Nearly 1,000 people crowded the fieldhouse for the private service for the victims’ family and friends. Their silence through the 40-minute service was broken occasionally by sobs. Eighty-eight white candles lined the front of the fieldhouse during the service.

As the mourners filed out of the fieldhouse, many embraced and tossed white roses into baskets. The roses were to be taken by helicopter to the crash site and scattered over the water.

Earlier in the day, dozens of surfers had paddled out into the chilly Pacific waters to drop three flower wreaths near the site where the airplane went down.

The plane was headed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco and then Seattle when it crashed on Monday, killing everyone on board.

``What better place to be, to rest in peace,″ said Keith Akins, a member of the Ventura Surf Club.

While family members mourned, Navy crews were continuing to map the airplane’s wreckage 640 feet below the surface, using a sonar device aboard the deep-diving robot that recovered the flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

The National Transportation Safety Board had indicated the work was proceeding rapidly, thanks to calm seas and a relatively small debris area, about the size of a football field.

NTSB official John Hammerschmidt said no decision has been made about how much of the wreckage would be recovered from the Santa Barbara Channel where the jet crashed, about 10 miles offshore.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said the county medical examiner was in possession of several nearly complete bodies. The Coast Guard has previously said four bodies had been recovered.

Sheriff’s spokesman Eric Nishimoto said medical examiners were using dental records, distinguishing marks, personal property such as wallets, and DNA to identify the remains, but didn’t expect to be certain of the identities for at least a week.

After the crash site is mapped, robots like the one that salvaged the plane’s flight recorders will eventually be sent down to help retrieve bodies.

In Seattle on Saturday, flight attendants in uniform joined grieving friends and neighbors at a church memorial service for four of the victims: Rod and Sarah Pearson and their daughters, Rachel, 6, and Gracie, 1.

Another memorial service was held at an airport hotel in Portland, Ore., where more than 500 flight attendants, pilots and Alaska Airlines employees gathered to remember colleague James J. Ryan the other victims.

Ryan was returning home on Flight 261 with his brother and parents after celebrating his 30th birthday in Puerto Vallarta.

``The Lord has prepared us for moments like this,″ said Pastor Ron Mehl of Beaverton. ``The truth is, I’ve watched you today and you’ve never been closer.″

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