25 years later: Remembering the victims of the ValuJet crash

ATLANTA — It’s been 25 years since an Atlanta-bound flight crash minutes after takeoff from Miami International Airport.

The ValuJet flight 592 crash killed all 110 people onboard.

On May 11, 1996, ValuJet flight 592 took off from Miami International Airport headed to Atlanta. About 10 minutes into the flight, the pilot reported a fire in the cargo area. As the plane headed back to the airport to address the issue, it crashed into the Everglades.

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Authorities said 144 outdated oxygen generator canisters were removed from another plane and placed onto Flight 592. Those canisters had been incorrectly listed as “empty” and did not have the required safety caps on, investigators said. They said the canisters are what ignited in the cargo area of the plane.

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The victims included a Gainesville couple - Hugh and Louise Stanley - and a friend, Ruth Wolfe.  They were returning from a Caribbean cruise. A Buford man, Steve Guiler, and a number of other Georgians also died.

At the time of the crash, a witness told investigators the plane seemed to nose-dive and then disappear. The crater created by the plane’s impact, about 20 miles into the wilderness from the Miami airport, could not be seen from the nearest highway, and could only be reached by airboat or helicopter.

Alligators, humidity and muck up to 40 feet thick impeded the recovery of the wreckage and human remains. Teams spent nearly two months removing debris by hand and taking it to dry land.

In 2016, on the 20th anniversary of the crash, many of the victims’ families gathered at the site to remember their loved ones.

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Walter Simonton said his mother, 67-year-old Joyce Simonton, of Macon, was on the flight coming back from her birthday celebration. He was there to remember her.

He said he still felt haunted by the memory.

“Just vast water. Vast grass,” he said, unable to find other words to describe the scene.

Joyce Simonton’s remains were never identified.

“Her spirit was there,” Simonton said after dropping rose petals into the tall sawgrass near the crash site. “It was a bit more closure.”

Already beset by poor safety ratings, ValuJet never recovered and merged with another low-cost carrier.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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