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Flying J founder dies

O. Jay Call, 62, the founder of Flying J — Utah's second-largest company — died Saturday in a private plane crash in southern Idaho. Richard "Buzz" Germer, a recent retired vice president of the company, and his wife, Irene, also perished in the accident.

Call, who had named his company after his love of flying aircraft, was piloting a jet-powered Cessna Citation en route to Sun Valley when it when it went down Saturday afternoon near Little Wood Reservoir, about 40 miles southeast of the Hailey Airport.

Searchers began looking for the plane late Saturday afternoon but didn't locate it until Sunday because of stormy weather. The cause of the crash is still being investigated, but weather may have been a key factor.

Call was flying Germer and his wife to their home in Sun Valley. Germer had retired only a few months ago from the company and had been one its original employees.

"Buzz had just had an operation in Salt Lake," J Phillip Adams, Flying J president and chief executive officer, said. "He'd been fighting cancer, and I think Jay was just trying to get them home as comfortably as he could."

He said Call wasn't heavily involved with the company's daily operations in recent years.

"Jay's family has in the past been very committed to the company's growth and prosperity, and in providing opportunities for its people. As an organization, Flying J is relatively mature. There will not be any disruption in the path and direction we're on. The biggest challenge for all of us is the loss of three really good friends," Adams said.

Call also had the idea to have his daughter, Crystal Maggelet, operate a hotel in Salt Lake City. The first of what are now 11 Crystal Inns opened in 1994.

According to Howard M. Carlisle, author of "The Flying J Story," a book published last summer, Call built Flying J from scratch. Born in Star Valley, Wyo., and raised in Soda Springs, Idaho, Call helped operate his father's family gas station in Soda Springs as a teenager. In his early 20s, he took over a small station built by his father just south of Willard in the fall of 1960.

Eight years later in 1968, he incorporated his Flying J business, then consisting of four small discount stations. The business expanded rapidly into California and the Northwest, with 52 Spartan stations in 10 years.

Carlisle said Flying J's travel plazas revolutionized the trucking industry in the 1980s. Today, the company is headquartered in Ogden, employs more than 11,000 workers and has annual sales of $4.6 billion, second in size in Utah only to Huntsman Chemical. Flying J has 167 retail facilities in 41 states and Canada.

"His one love after his business was aircraft," Carlisle said. "He was often involved in humanitarian flights and rescued nine people last summer with his helicopter."

Plans for funeral services were pending Monday morning.

Contributing: Jenifer Nii, Associated Press.