Mourners at Rites for Plane Crash Victims Find Comfort
Family and friends grieved on Friday for the instructor and student pilot lost in a plane crash just before Christmas but found some comfort that the two perished doing something they loved.
Jacqueline Thompson, 29, and Michael Jellander, 17, died in a fiery plane crash a week ago today in the hills above Ventura, and relatives and friends honored their lives at separate funeral and memorial services.
“Michael died doing what he wanted to do,” said his twin sister Janine. “He always wanted to be a pilot. At least he got the chance.”
Jellander’s father, a Continental Airlines pilot, gave his only son an early Christmas present of a familiarization flight. The Thousand Oaks High School senior and his instructor, Thompson, were killed instantly when their small aircraft nose-dived into a hill and exploded on Dec. 21.
A funeral service was held for Thompson and a memorial service for Jellander on Friday in Thousand Oaks. About 120 people attended the ceremony for Thompson at St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church and nearly 400 came to remember Jellander at Calvary Community Church.
Four planes did two flybys for Thompson at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake while relatives and friends said their final goodbys to the Ventura pilot.
Toward the end of the ceremony, four small airplanes suddenly appeared and the crowd fell silent as the planes flew low over Thompson’s grave.
“The planes helped,” said Heather Campbell, Thompson’s roommate who arranged the flybys. “Jackie would’ve loved it. Jackie’s OK now.”
According to family and friends, flying was Thompson’s biggest passion in life. She had more than 500 flight hours and had been an instructor pilot for Channel Islands Aviation since May. Her ultimate goal was to be an airline pilot, like her father.
“I miss her a lot,” said her father, Rolla (Tommy) Thompson. “We’ve been flying for several years.”
Authorities have not yet released the cause of the plane crash, but witnesses said they heard the Cessna 152 sputter shortly before the accident. Co-workers and friends all described Thompson as being a very competent flier.
“Flying was her life,” said Campbell, who had been a passenger many times. “She had such a wonderful sense of humor except when she got up in the air. That part of her life was taken very seriously.”
As a teacher, Thompson was “very tough, very by-the-book,” said Charlene Mims, a 30-year-old Port Hueneme woman who had taken flying lessons from Thompson since July.
“She was always on us,” Mims recalled. “She would ask, ‘Where are you going to land if an engine conks out?’ . . . but even though she was really strict, she brought passion to flying. It was in her blood.”
Both Thompson’s and Jellander’s fathers are pilots and both children wanted to follow in their parent’s career.
In an autobiography that Jellander wrote two years ago, he told his English teacher: “After completing college, I plan to go into the service, or more specifically, the Marines. This last statement may sound narrow-minded, but if I had said one of the other services I would be starting an eternal feud with my father who was a Marine officer. . . . Even if I do not join the Marines, I will probably join one of the other services where I could fly airplanes like my dad did.”
Jellander’s friends described him as a warm, friendly youth who had a mischievous sense of humor. Some of his water polo teammates openly wept and other friends made the crowd laugh as they told anecdotes about Jellander.
“I know somewhere Mike is saying, ‘Thank God I don’t have to do Algebra 2,’ ” said Chuck Andrews, his high school counselor. “He hated math. . . . I would say, ‘Mike, you need Algebra 2 for college,’ and he would answer, ‘No, I found some colleges that won’t require it.’ ”
Jellander had hoped to go to USC, where he was accepted, and then later become a pilot, said his twin Janine, who also received a gift certificate for a flight from her father.
Although she is not interested in becoming a flier, Janine said she would later take the flight. “It was a fluke,” she said, referring to the crash. “It’s not going to stop me from doing something I want. . . . Michael used his first because he wanted to. He got a chance to fly. It was for a short time, but he got a chance to fly.”