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Valley residents witness tragedy

by Linda Hiller

Five Carson Valley residents flew to Baja California, Mexico last weekend, most for their first trip as volunteers in a free health clinic run by the Mother Lode chapter of the Flying Samaritans, but the weekend ended in tragedy when a plane carrying three other volunteers crashed shortly after take-off Sunday morning.

“It was awful,” said pilot and orthodontist Vincent D’Ascoli, one of the Carson Valley volunteers. “They were the first plane to take off Sunday morning to go home and Bob had just radioed that they’d cleared the fog. That was they last anyone heard of them.”

The plane apparently plunged into a false bay, D’Ascoli said, and since his plane was the last one of six to leave, they were asked to identify the bodies of all three passengers of the downed plane.

“We were the last ones there, so they asked us to stay and help,” he said.

– The deceased. The volunteers who died, all California residents, included pilot Dr. Bob App; clinic director Christine Nichols and Petaluma dental hygienist Mary Thompson. App’s plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza V35, sank shortly after the bodies were pulled out by fishermen. D’Ascoli said there may be an investigation by the United States, since it was an American plane.

“I wish we knew what happened,” he said. “Maybe he had a heart attack or fainted, because he wasn’t feeling good before he took off. It doesn’t make any sense. We were supposed to be out there saving lives.”

– The Carson Valley team. Flying to the health clinic in San Quintin with D’Ascoli in his Piper Saratoga were Roberta Marquis, massage therapist; Clem Jauquet, grant writer; Jenny Passas, Dr. D’Ascoli’s orthodontic assistant; and her husband Chris Passas who works for CalTrans. Only Jauquet had been to the San Quintin clinic before, D’Ascoli said. The area is 150 miles south of Tijuana.

D’Ascoli has been a pilot for 22 years and said there were a few shaky nerves when the Carson Valley group finally left the ground Monday to head back to Nevada.

“When we left Monday, the mood was pretty down,” he said. “We still felt great about what we did at the clinic, but the crash just didn’t make sense.”

The Mother Lode chapter of the Flying Samaritans was established in 1977, and runs monthly free medical clinics in San Quintin for Oaxacan workers there. Because of Mexico’s health coverage laws, health care is only provided to natives of each region. Since the Oaxacan people are farm workers imported from Oaxaca, they receive no health coverage or care, D’Ascoli said.

“The clinic was founded 23 years ago by a dentist and his physician wife who thought the Oaxacan people there were so nice and they deserved health care,” he said.

D’Ascoli said he spent very little time doing orthodontics, but applied his dentistry in pulling teeth, doing fillings and cleanings.

“Orthodontists have to become dentists first, so I have no problem doing those things,” he said. “I was also an oral surgeon before becoming an orthodontist.”

– Carry on their work. The Flying Samaritans will continue to do the work of the three who perished Sunday, D’Ascoli said. For more information, call Pat Collins (530) 622-4269 or go to http://www.flyingsamaritans.org

Donations are welcome in the name of the deceased volunteers, and new volunteers are always encouraged. D’Ascoli and Marquis have already signed up to go back in September.

“You don’t have to be a doctor to volunteer,” D’Ascoli said. “If people can speak Spanish, that’s needed. We saw some really great kids and they’re grateful for you getting them out of pain. There were 160 people in line outside the building when we got there. There’s a million and one things to do there.”