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West Jordan Journal

‘A better way to say goodbye’ to victims of plane crash

Sep 14, 2020 04:25PM ● By Justin Adams

Mourners at the candlelight vigil light candles in honor of those who died in a July 25 plane crash. The plane, which was headed for Page, Arizona, made it only about 1.5 miles from the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan before the crash. (Photo courtesy of Autumn Allen.)

By Alison Brimley | [email protected]

Autumn Allen has worked as a nurse’s aide, and she’s currently attending EMT school. But she wasn’t far into her training when she found herself acting as one of the first responders on the scene of a horrific accident.

On the afternoon of July 25, Allen was at her mother Gayle Hughes’ house, holding a yard sale on the front lawn. She was startled to see a plane pass “4 feet” above her mother’s roof. 

Right away, she called 911. Hughes told Allen to go check on her grandmother, who lived in a nearby neighborhood that the plane seemed to be heading toward. Allen immediately climbed into a rental van from Home Depot and sped toward her grandmother’s house, three streets away. But as she drove, she let the smoke rising in the air guide her toward the scene of the impact, which she soon realized was not near her grandmother’s house but closer to the street she’d left in the first place. 

Allen ended up as one of the first responders on the scene, aiding 72-year-old Maria “Mary” Quintana, the owner of the house the plane struck. When Allen arrived on the scene of the accident, she saw passengers from the crashed plane receiving emergency care but heard Quintana “screaming” in her yard across the street. “Everyone was getting help except for Mary,” she said. 

Allen immediately jumped the fence into Quintana’s backyard and began asking the injured woman “paramedic questions,” like what her name was. Quintana wasn’t able to answer. Instead she begged, “Don’t let my son or brother find out what happened over the phone.”

Along with other neighbors, Allen was able to lift the fence, creating a 2-foot gap that they dragged Mary under. They then carried the woman to the other side of the street, where paramedics were assisting plane passengers. Allen reported that 43-year-old Lee Wyckoff, the plane’s pilot, who later passed away at the scene, sat up but described 9-month-old Coral Wyckoff as already “gray” and “lifeless.”  

“I just kept thinking, ‘OK, this is really happening,’” Allen said. 

Along with Lee and Coral Wyckoff, 36-year-old Milda Shibonis also died in the accident. Three other passengers, Rebecca Wyckoff, Veda Shepherd and Cody Mitchell, survived. Mary Quintana was briefly hospitalized with severe burns on much of her body, but she too passed away on July 27. 

Gayle Hughes is at work on a petition to increase regulation for the West Jordan airport. Allen said current regulations are not being upheld and that planes depart from the flight plan and fly over neighborhoods. “The FAA needs to have answers for that,” she said. 

This is the eighth plane crash originating from the South Valley Airport to occur in 10 years. It’s also the first in which someone on the ground was killed. Some say the crashes aren’t due to a flaw in the airport itself but are more likely simply because smaller planes are riskier and because development has crept toward the once-isolated airport. 

On Aug. 8, a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the crash’s victims was held at the soccer field at 7800 South and 4000 West in West Jordan. Allen and King organized the event together. The flier they created for the event, which featured photos of each of the four victims, read, “We are reminded at this time how precious and meaningful life is and to not take one second for granted.” 

“It was such an ugly way to say goodbye,” Allen said of the crash. The vigil came out of a need for greater closure.

At the event, friends and family of the victims spoke, along with West Jordan mayor Dirk Burton. Allen and Hughes bought 400 candles for the event, though only 50 people attended. They played music and lit lanterns. “It was beautiful,” Allen said. 

“My mom told me something, and now I really believe it,” she said, then related an experience. The night of the vigil, she watched as four dragonflies hovered near the crowd. Earlier, Allen had noticed a dragonfly at Mary Quintana’s funeral, near the mariachi band. They made Allen and her mother think of the four people who had lost their lives in the crash. “I just knew they were all there and all watching over us,” she said.