The afternoon plane ride that killed two Salt Lake couples Sunday was to be a Christmas gift among the longtime friends.

Craig and Marla Peterson and their friends and neighbors John and Nadine Shelton were en route to Wendover when their small plane went down in the Cedar Mountains south of I-80 in Tooele County.The children of both couples say they'd rather their parents be remembered for their accomplishments and friendship than for their tragic deaths.

"That was my parents' Christmas present to John and Nadine, that's why they were in the airplane. John loved to go with my dad," said daughter Meichelle Peterson-Caruso, 24. "My dad decided that would be a great Christmas present."

The history between the Peterson and Shelton families is older than some of the children.

"Our families have grown up together ever since some of us were born," said son Scott Shelton, 28. "When we first started out, on a street called Westerling Way, the Peterson's house was directly across the street."

When the families moved from the Cottonwood Heights neighborhood, they still lived next door to each other. Through the years, the two couples and their children remained fast friends - to the degree of sharing a satellite hookup and building a hot tub that straddles the property line separating their homes.

"John would call and say, `Are you really watching the home shopping network? Do you know there is a Jazz game on?' " one of the Peterson kids remembered. "The best way of putting it was that it was one huge family," Craig and Marla's son-in-law Vincent Caruso said.

John Shelton owned and operated Pehrson's Power Equipment at the time of his death. His wife Nadine helped him run the company. The store has been in the Shelton family since its days as one of three stores at Cottonwood Mall.

Craig Peterson, a partner in the Salt Lake law firm Littlefield & Peterson, was an experienced private pilot working on his instrument rating at the time of his death, according to son Mark, a commercial pilot.

Kurt Peterson, 26, and his fiance Elaine Pine, 24, recalled the first time she met his parents. They were going to dinner together.

"We drove up Little Cottonwood and we tried every single restaurant in the canyon, but they were all closed," Kurt said. "This had taken 1 1/2 or 2 hours and we were starving.

"My dad said, `This is ridiculous. One of the best hamburgers I've ever had was in Jackson Hole. Let's go down and get the plane and fly up there and get a hamburger.' It was great," Kurt said.

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Such adventurous spirit was common for the two couples. Craig and Marla were high school sweethearts who peppered their marriage with exotic travel and good times among family and friends. John and Nadine met on a blind date and later married on a sailboat at Lake Tahoe.

Craig Peterson served as chief counsel for two U.S. Senate standing committees and was a Utah congressional candidate. His wife, Marla, served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Allan Howe and coordinated a U.S. Senate and two congressional campaigns.

Despite their busy schedules, Craig and Marla supported their children in athletics, community service and academics, the kids say.

"They would never miss events," Mark said. "If we had a soccer game, a dance rehearsal, even if they only saw five minutes of it, they would show up."

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