3 From County Were on Doomed Flight

Times Staff Writers

A 16-year-old cheerleader from Santa Ana returning from a visit with her father in Ohio and a couple from Laguna Hills coming home from a friend's wedding were listed Monday among the victims of the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 in Detroit.

As many as a dozen passengers aboard the flight, which crashed shortly after takeoff and was scheduled to stop in Phoenix, were believed to have been headed for John Wayne Airport in Orange County. Northwest Airlines refused Monday to release a complete passenger list. But other sources said the victims included:

Hidi Ratliff, 16, of Santa Ana, who would have been a senior and a varsity cheerleader at Costa Mesa High School during the coming school year. Friends said she had flown to Toledo to visit her father for the first time in two years and was returning Sunday so she would be on time for cheerleading practice.

- Raphael Tombasco Jr., 34, district sales manager for Kendall Refining Co. in the City of Commerce, and his wife, Lisa, 26, a registered nurse at Beverly Manor Convalescent Hospital in Laguna Hills. Friends said they lived in Laguna Hills, had been married 10 months and had flown to Corning, N.Y., to attend a friend's wedding.

The college-age daughter of a Tustin couple may also have been on the plane, according to a neighbor. Dodie Namey said her neighbors--David Surowitz, his wife and two other children--had moved to Tustin recently from Michigan.

Namey said the Surowitzes had approached her Sunday and asked her to watch their house for a few days, saying they were leaving for Detroit after hearing that a plane on which their daughter was a passenger had crashed.

Pamn Husted, a friend of Hidi Ratliff's mother, Mary Ann Ratliff, said the daughter had appeared in a few TV commercials and shows before she turned 12. "She was a doll--blond, positive, energetic, talented," Husted said.

She had quit acting at age 12 "because she just lost interest," Husted said.

"The ironic thing is, Mary Ann is a flight instructor, and Hidi flew on private aircraft thousands and thousands of times," Husted said.

The victim had been flying on commercial airlines to visit her father about once a year since her parents were divorced nearly 13 years ago, Husted said.

Mary Ann Ratliff, owner of Statewide Appraisals, a Santa Ana mobile home appraisal business, learned about the crash watching the TV evening news, Husted said.

The airline had no information for her but flew Ratliff and a friend, Orville McGee, to Detroit Sunday night, she said.

Costa Mesa High School officials described Hidi Ratliff as an average student who was very active on campus and planned to go to college.

Marlene Felter of Costa Mesa, mother of Hidi's 17-year-old boyfriend, Tim Felter, said she had received a letter from the victim recently that had been full of "how much she missed her home and family."

Hidi had attended a family reunion and complained good-naturedly that relatives "pinched her cheeks" and told her how much she had grown, Marlene Felter said.

"She was the best," Tim Felter said.

Chris Taylor, Hidi's pep squad adviser, said the first practice session had been scheduled for Monday morning on campus. The rest of the pep squad members arrived without knowing that Hidi had been killed.

"They're really upset," Taylor said. "A lot of them are having a hard time dealing with it." Practice was canceled for the rest of the week.

"The day has been very sad around here," Asst. Principal Steve Pavich said. "We will miss her very, very much."

An only child, Hidi had lived in a comfortable Santa Ana neighborhood the last five years. Neighbors and friends remembered her as a typical teen-ager who drove a VW convertible and liked the beach.

"She did baby-sitting for my two children," neighbor Charlotte Burns said. "She was bubbly and always would play with the neighbor kids. They would have water fights--you know, with the garden hose--and she would play with them. She was the kind of teen-ager like they used to make in the old days."

Hidi was always involved in little money-making ventures, from mowing lawns to selling candy she made herself, Burns said. One year she made Easter baskets and filled them with chocolate strawberries and chocolate Easter bunnies.

She was supposed to sell them but "ending up giving two to my children," Burns said.

Another neighborhood mother, Juanita Johnson, said: "I heard about it this morning. I was just dumbstruck, especially when you find out that the tragic news is no longer far away. But this affects us. This is in our neighborhood."

Another neighbor, Gregory Carroll, 17, who said he had attended McFadden Intermediate School with Hidi, recalled that she was always very friendly and "really attractive."

Following burial in Toledo, memorial services will be held locally, Husted said. No date or time has been scheduled.

The Tombascos' next-door neighbor, Alton Burkhalter, said the victims had been excited about their trip to New York, where they were to attend a wedding in Buffalo.

"They're from back there," he said. "They were very family-oriented. Just two of the finest people."

Arthur Tombasco, Raphael Tombasco's older brother, said from Corning, N.Y., that after the wedding the couple had gone straight to Syracuse to visit relatives.

"So they flew right out of Syracuse," he said. "That was the most convenient flight. Detroit was a stopover on the way to Laguna Hills."

He said the couple had lived in California only about nine months: "He was working in Buffalo as a salesman and was promoted. They moved out there (to California) and loved it. They were just getting ready to buy a house."

They had no children. He said the news of the crash came at 3 a.m. Monday in a telephone call from the airline. The airline called again Monday morning to confirm that the two had been aboard the plane.

"Northwest Airlines is going to let us know when it's time to come out" to Detroit, he said, but he added that the family does not feel like making the trip.

"I'm not sure we're going to go " he said. "I sent them dental records (for identifying the bodies)."

In Detroit, a morgue was set up at an air travel club's hangar next to the old brick Wayne County Sheriff's Department airport annex. Inside, systematically sorted bodies, fragments, personal effects and possessions were laid out for inspection.

"They are having family and relatives come in and identify whatever they can," Wayne County sheriff's department Capt. Donald Smith said late Monday. "We're just securing the area to keep people out."

One police official estimated that about 50% of the bodies have been positively identified. All the bodies have been removed from the crash site.

Sheriff's deputies and police were stationed around the eight-foot chain-link fence, and about every 15 minutes another group of victims' relatives would arrive in a long black stretch limousine at the hangar parking lot.

As TV crews aimed cameras and the ground shook with jetliners taking off overhead, relatives were ushered into the hanger to identify the dead.

When finished, the relatives were transported back to the Marriott Hotel, where they had been put up by Northwest Airlines.

Mike McBride in Detroit and Times staff writers Mark Landsbaum, Jonathan Weisman and David Reyes contributed to this article.

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