Oct 17, 2010 10:47 PM by Danielle Lerner

Friends and family mourn the loss of local volunteers killed in plane crash

We're learning more about the four volunteers from San Luis Obispo County who died en route to a medical aid mission in Mexico.

The plane went missing Friday afternoon shortly after it left Ensanada, Mexico, headed for San Quintin.

Saturday night Mexican authorities found the wreckage in rough terrain about 30 miles south of Ensanda.

They say the plane hit a 3,900 foot hill and then slid down to a mesa.

Those who knew the group say the loss is devastating.
Dr. Graciela Sarmiento was a fixture in the Oceano community.

A woman who loved her husband and children, and stopped at nothing to care for her patients at the city's Community Health Center.

She was also in the process of developing a local wellness center for the underserved.

"If you met her you would love her immediately," saud Villa Infanto, Graciela's best friend. "She's always dedicated her life to serving the poor and people that didn't have as much as her, that was what her life was all about was helping others."

The pilot, Roger Lyon, was also a fixture in San Luis Obispo County.

The Cayucos resident and long-time attorney was well-known for his efforts in preserving the Hearst Ranch Property.

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said in a statement, "It's a terrible shock and it's hard to understand how this could happen. He was a tremendous friend and did remarkable things for this county."

The youngest volunteer, Andrew Thiel, was a medic who graduated from Cal Poly this year.

He hoped to become and orthopedic surgeon and was applying for medical schools.

Thiel's brother was also supposed to take the trip, but could not make it.

"As far as a son is concerned, you couldn't ask for better," said Mark Thiel, Andrew's dad. "His heart was as big as the mountain that claimed his life."

The other person on board was Dr. James Thornton, an Arroyo Grande plastic surgeon who served as a Flying Samaritan for 20 years.

He often operated on cleft palates and burn victims.

Thornton's wife spoke with KSBY News just hours before the wreckage was found.

"This is like surreal, this happens on television you know you watch movies and you see that, this doesn't happen to us," said Christine Thornton.

Four lives cut tragically short, and four families still struggling to understand why.

All of the families say they are keeping one another in their thoughts and prayers.

Back in 2000 another Flying Samaritan's plane crashed about 180 miles south of Tijuana, killing three volunteers on board, all from Northern California.


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