Elinor Brecher and Mark Woolfson are all too familiar with plane-crash tragedies this week.
Brecher, a writer for the Miami Herald, has been covering the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades over the weekend, which killed more than 100 people on board. Wednesday morning, Woolfson, her husband, lost the son he had met for the first time just last year - Paul Rossiter.Rossiter, 31, and Travis Gurr, 29, both of Salt Lake City, were aboard a twin-engine Cessna 320 when it slammed into Utah Lake Wednesday morning and disintegrated on contact. The two are presumed dead, said Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Dick Casto, who is directing search-and-rescue efforts.
Investigators are unsure who was flying the craft over Utah Lake at approximately 8:15 a.m. when one of the engines evidently caught fire. The Provo Municipal Airport received a distress call that one of the plane's engines was on fire. Minutes later, another pilot flying by reported seeing the plane crash into the lake, just a mile north of the Provo Boat Harbor.
"This is so surreal. You would never believe that anything like this could happen," Brecher said in a telephone call from the couple's home in Hollywood, Fla., Wednesday night.
Brecher and Woolfson met Rossiter for the first time last year after the couple tracked him down through an Internet adoption information service and bulletin board. Brecher said Woolfson fathered Rossiter during a "youthful swing" in California and that his biological mother gave him up for adoption.
"I've been speaking to him and my granddaughter since I found out about him. I spent a week out there and now he's gone. It's just a very strange thing," Woolfson said. "One thing this has taught me is when you have someone you love, don't walk away mad. You've got to tell them you love them as often as possible."
Sheriff's search and rescue teams returned to the lake Thursday morning. Divers discovered body parts, which were taken to the state Medical Examiner's Office in Salt Lake City for identification.
Further efforts from divers on Wednesday were hampered by oil slicks and fuel spills from the wreckage. Casto said the divers tried to limit their exposure to the contaminated water to 15 minutes at a time. Winds scattered the fuel and oil in the early evening, but also made waters too choppy to resume the search.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are currently trying to piece together evidence that might point to a cause for the engine fire and the subsequent crash.
Salvage crews have been able to find one of the plane's engines, which is still being examined. They were unable to recover the entire plane - critical to the FAA and NTSB investigations - because they did not have equipment large enough to bring it to the surface, Casto said.
The plane left the Salt Lake International Airport's executive runway about 8 a.m. for training maneuvers. The crew did not file a flight plan.
Some witnesses said the craft spiraled before suddenly diving, while the pilot who reported seeing the crash said it suddenly dived at about a 70-degree angle.
Wreckage from the plane scattered on impact as it exploded. Papers, including the flight log, were found floating on the surface, while the main fuselage was embedded in the 13-foot-deep water.
Fishermen and other lake patrons who heard the plane hit the water originally thought it might be a boat accident or collision.
"That's what it sounded like. But then there was an explosion and a big puff of brownish smoke. That's when I told one of the others to find a ranger, but evidently he had already heard it too," said Don Holmstead, who was fishing with his wife and two others.