Local News

Oct 17, 2010 12:02 PM by Danielle Lerner

Wife of Flying Samaritan killed in plane crash recalls his passion for helping others

Four people from San Luis Obispo County are dead after their plane crashed while traveling to a medical mission in San Quintin, Mexico.

The Beechcraft A36 plane took off from the San Luis Obispo Airport friday morning carrying two doctors, a medical volunteer and a pilot.

They are part of the Flying Samaritans, a group that does medical missions in Mexico.

Radio contact was lost at about 2 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, Mexican authorities found the wreckage about 30 miles south of Ensenada.

One of the doctor's wives spoke with KSBY News before the wreckage was found. She spoke about her husband's passion for helping others.

Dr. James Thornton, a plastic surgeon from Arroyo Grande, was one of four people who boarded the plane Friday morning. It is a trip he has been taking for the past 20 years.

"Every April and October he goes down there and he does operations on cleft lips and palate and any other types of issues people may have," said Christine Thornton, James' wife. "He loves it, he comes back and he just will tell us about some child that he's done this or that with, or some burn patient that's come in that he's making them look better."

KSBY News flew with the Flying Samaritans back in 2005. We got an up-close look at the life-changing work being done by these Central Coast volunteers.

"These people will come for miles," said Thornton. "They'll walk to go to these clinics so it's really an important thing they do."

The three others on board include the pilot, Roger Lyon of Cayucos. Dr. Graciela Sarmiento who worked at the Community Health Center in Oceano, and Andrew Theil, a non-support medical volunteer who may have also attended Cal Poly.

A medical mission, turned tragedy. Four volunteers who dedicated their lives to making a difference.

"A lot of people don't realize that all of these doctors and medical personnel give up their time and they pay to go down there." said Thornton. "Obviously there can be dangers to that."

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the crash.

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