Real life

‘My two daugh­ters and I were all wid­owed in the same crash’.

Friday - - Editor’s Letter - A Go Fund Me ac­count has been cre­ated for the fam­ily to help pay for fu­neral costs, ad­di­tional ex­penses and funds to support their new ba­bies: www.go­fundme.com/doug­ja­cobkyle

Kiss­ing my hus­band Doug goodbye, I told him and my sons-in-law, Ja­cob Grif­fiths, 32, and Kyle Par­ton, 29, to hurry home soon.

“I love you,’’ Doug Symiczek, 49, an auto body me­chanic, whis­pered in my ear, promis­ing they would re­turn by 9am.

It was July 6, 2014, and my daugh­ters were in town vis­it­ing for the week­end with their hus­bands. My youngest, Bre­anna, 23, was heav­ily preg­nant with her sec­ond baby and due to give birth that week. My elder daugh­ter Amanda, 28, had just an­nounced the night be­fore that she and Ja­cob were also ex­pect­ing their first baby to­gether.

Just weeks ahead of Doug and I cel­e­brat­ing our 30-year wed­ding an­niver­sary, both of us rev­elled in the happy news.

Doug and I first met when we were 15 – we were high-school sweet­hearts. He was a shy school­boy who loved build­ing mo­tors and re­pair­ing cars and I was a so­cial but­ter­fly with lots of friends.

In many re­spects we were very dif­fer­ent, but Doug al­ways had the kin­d­est heart.

After grad­u­a­tion Doug asked me to be his wife and we got mar­ried in 1984. The next year I fell preg­nant with Amanda. I wanted so badly to have a baby and I couldn’t wait to be a mum.

When Doug first held his lit­tle girl in his arms, he im­me­di­ately fell in love. “She’s per­fect,’’ he de­clared, as his eyes swelled with tears.

After we had Bre­anna we felt our fam­ily was fi­nally com­plete.

Liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, we loved be­ing out­doors and spent our week­ends camp­ing and boat­ing on nearby Lake Elsi­nore.

In 1990 Doug got his pi­lot’s li­cence and bought a 1967 sin­gle-en­gine, four-pas­sen­ger air­plane. It had al­ways been Doug’s dream to fly his own plane and after sav­ing up, his

dream fi­nally came true. Nearly ev­ery day for 16 years he com­muted back and forth by plane to work in his auto body shop, about 110km from home.

He was a bril­liant pi­lot and would whisk us away for a day trip at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

After univer­sity, Bre­anna mar­ried Kyle in 2010 and a year later Amanda mar­ried Ja­cob. We loved both the boys and treated them like our own sons. They lived close by and would drop by our home in Lake Elsi­nore, a city in western River­side County, fre­quently. They in­stantly be­came part of our fam­ily, spend­ing week­ends cook­ing at our house and trav­el­ling on hol­i­days to­gether.

They also loved fly­ing with Doug and the thrill of be­ing up in the air.

As our fam­ily con­tin­ued to grow, Doug and I adored be­ing grand­par­ents to Bre­anna and Kyle’s son Ry­der, now three, and we couldn’t wait to have more grand­chil­dren to spoil. With so much to look for­ward to, I felt blessed to have my fam­ily back to­gether and all un­der the same roof again.

While Amanda and I spent the morn­ing keep­ing Bre­anna com­fort­able at home, Doug took the boys out for a quick flight to have break­fast at his favourite café.

Ja­cob kissed Amanda goodbye and Kyle went to check on Bre­anna, who was still asleep in bed. “We’ll be back soon,’’ they promised, clos­ing the front door be­hind them.

They left at 7am, and we got busy with break­fast. Hours passed, and when they hadn’t re­turned by 10am I be­gan won­der­ing what was tak­ing them so long.

“Kyle said he’d be back soon,” said Bre­anna. “Won­der what’s hold­ing them up.”

“They prob­a­bly just lost track of time,’’ I as­sured the girls. My daugh­ters agreed. It wasn’t un­com­mon for Doug, Ja­cob and Kyle to get caught up in a con­ver­sa­tion to­gether.

But with Bre­anna due to go into labour at any mo­ment, some­thing didn’t feel right.

“Let me give them a call,” I said, and di­alled Doug’s num­ber. Oddly, it went straight to his voice­mail. I then sent a text mes­sage ask­ing him to call me, but there was no re­sponse.

In fact, none of them were re­spond­ing to our text mes­sages and our calls.

I quickly logged on to Twit­ter to scan the feeds of the lo­cal news sta­tions I follow. Just as I tried to call Doug again, a new post flashed on my screen. I gasped as I read the head­line aloud: ‘Three peo­ple dead after a small plane crashed in Lake Elsi­nore.’

Like a stuck record, I kept read­ing the same words over and over again, at first qui­etly to my­self and then louder and louder.

Try­ing to put on a brave face, I told my daugh­ters not to worry or panic. “I’m sure it’s not them,” I mum­bled. But my heart was rac­ing and I was be­gin­ning to feel faint with fear.

Re­al­is­ing my grand­son Ry­der was in the next room, we did our best to hide our wor­ried emo­tions.

I quickly scanned other news feeds to see if there were any more de­tails. I learnt that the crash hap­pened about 25km away from our home, half­way be­tween our house and the café.

It would have been in the di­rect flight path Doug took that morn­ing. But surely it wasn’t Doug’s plane that went down. As I watched Ry­der play with his toys on the floor, I locked eyes with the girls, all of us silently pray­ing it wasn’t real.

Any mo­ment now they would be walk­ing through the front door, teas­ing us for mak­ing such a fuss.

“It’s not them,’’ Bre­anna protested. “It can’t be.’’

We fran­ti­cally made phone calls to try to piece to­gether more in­for­ma­tion. Amanda called the café and found out Doug had paid the bill at 9am be­fore taxi­ing out of the air­port at 9.10am. They were on their way home.

But po­lice re­ported the crash at 9.25am and now it was go­ing on 11am. “Where are they?’’ I pan­icked. Amanda quickly called the lo­cal fire chief, a close friend of our fam­ily, and asked him to go to the crash site for us.

After piec­ing to­gether their time­line, I couldn’t help but fear what was com­ing. As we anx­iously waited for more news, the girls and I hud­dled to­gether on the front porch, desperately search­ing the clear blue sky for Doug’s plane to pass by. But it never did. Fi­nally, at 2pm we got the phone call we’d been dread­ing all day.

I an­swered the phone, my hands shak­ing, as the fire chief con­firmed my worst night­mare.

“Kim,” he said. “It was Doug’s plane that crashed into the moun­tain. Doug, Kyle and Ja­cob are all dead.’’

I wanted to scream and tell him he was wrong, but I couldn’t find the words. I just started sob­bing, drop­ping the phone.

None of us wanted to be­lieve it was true, but there was no denying it now.

Pulling the girls in close, we col­lapsed to the floor, life­less and

We desperately searched the clear blue sky, hop­ing Doug’s plane would pass by. But it never did

sob­bing in each other’s arms. I watched as Ry­der played in the other room, bliss­fully un­aware that his daddy had just been killed in a ter­ri­ble plane crash.

In one fleet­ing mo­ment all of our lives had changed for­ever.

We’d lost half of our fam­ily. Our hus­bands, and our he­roes.

Just the day be­fore we were cel­e­brat­ing Amanda’s news about her preg­nancy and anx­iously wait­ing for Bre­anna’s lit­tle girl to ar­rive.

Now, Kyle and Ja­cob would never have the chance to meet their ba­bies or hold them in their arms. Doug would never be able to spoil his new grand­chil­dren, like he did Ry­der. None of us would ever hold our hus­bands’ hands again or hear them say ‘I love you.’ I felt numb with shock. In the days that fol­lowed, new de­tails came in about the ac­ci­dent. Ac­cord­ing to the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the plane’s en­gine failed mid-flight. When Doug started los­ing al­ti­tude he be­gan cir­cling low to the ground, pre­par­ing for an emer­gency land­ing on the moun­tain­side.

But un­fore­seen in the dis­tance was a small pipe among the tree­line, which clipped the right wing and caused the plane to crash.

It all ended in a fiery ex­plo­sion and our hus­bands were killed im­me­di­ately on im­pact.

Learn­ing about their last mo­ments, I felt sick at the thought of how scared they must have been as the plane went down. But one de­tail the girls and I were able to find com­fort in was learn­ing both Kyle and Ja­cob were found in the back of the plane.

Hav­ing flown with Doug for so many years, we think he must have told them to go to the back so he could take the brunt of the col­li­sion in the front. Po­ten­tially risk­ing his life in or­der to save them.

Their dad had al­ways been their hero, and mine too.

I felt proud know­ing Doug tried ev­ery­thing he could to keep those boys safe.

Over the next days the girls and I leaned on each other as an unimag­in­able pain set in. As we be­gan to plan three sep­a­rate fu­ner­als, we held Ry­der a lit­tle closer while wait­ing for his baby sis­ter to ar­rive.

I truly be­lieve she was wait­ing on pur­pose in or­der to give Bre­anna the time she needed to grieve.

On July 13, one week after the ac­ci­dent, Trulee Ann Skyler fi­nally ar­rived and she was per­fect in ev­ery way. Amanda and I were in the de­liv­ery room along with Kyle’s mum.

It was so spe­cial to be by Bre­anna’s side, but we all couldn’t help but wish that Kyle was there in­stead of us.

Months on, it still feels like the boys are just away on hol­i­day to­gether and that they will be com­ing home any day now.

Some­times I just sit on the sofa, wait­ing as if I’m go­ing to see them all walk through the front door, laugh­ing and car­ry­ing on like they al­ways did.

It doesn’t feel real that all of our hus­bands are gone, so much that the girls haven’t even be­gun to mourn the loss of their fa­ther yet. But de­spite our heart­break, we have vowed to find strength in each other to get past this.

I know Doug wouldn’t want me to be sad for too long.

In­stead he’d want me to carry on and con­tinue rais­ing our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren in a fam­ily filled with love and hap­pi­ness.

Ry­der still talks about the ac­ci­dent nearly ev­ery day.

“My dad is dead,’’ he’ll say can­didly, look­ing at fam­ily pic­tures hang­ing on the walls.

“So is un­cle Ja­cob and Pa,’’ he’ll add, as all of us fight back our tears. At three years he’s hav­ing a hard time pro­cess­ing that daddy is never com­ing home.

But watch­ing Ry­der and Trulee grow up makes me smile, know­ing we still have so much to look for­ward to as a fam­ily.

And I know Amanda’s lit­tle boy will bring us even more joy when he ar­rives later this month.

The girls and I lost so much that day in the blink of an eye.

We lost our soul­mates and our kids all lost their fa­thers.

But no mat­ter what, we still have each other.

And with a home proudly filled with pic­tures and mem­o­ries of Doug, Kyle and Ja­cob, we will for­ever carry them in our hearts. Kim Symiczek, 49, lives in Lake Elsi­nore, Cal­i­for­nia, with her daugh­ters

In one fleet­ing mo­ment we had lost half of our fam­ily. Our hus­bands, and our he­roes

We lost our soul­mates and our kids all lost their fa­thers

Doug and I were

high-school sweet­heart

s

Bre­anna and

Kyle’s two beau­ti­ful chil­dren will never see their

dad again

their Amanda and Ja­cob were ex­pect­ing

first baby to­gether

We had so much to look for­ward to be­fore the ac­ci­dent

We were al­ways a happy fam­ily

Kyle never got a chance to hold his baby girl

Doug was ever ready to take his fam­ily for a plane ride

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