wplg logo

Remembrance ceremony held for victims of ValuJet crash on 25th anniversary

The May 11, 1996, crash killed 110 passengers and crew members.
The May 11, 1996, crash killed 110 passengers and crew members.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials and authorities from the Miami-Dade Police Department are participating in a remembrance ceremony Tuesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ValuJet Flight 592 crash.

The ceremony was held at 2 p.m. at the ValuJet memorial site.

“It’s been 25 years and it doesn’t seem like it’s been 25 years because what happened here is still fresh in our minds,” former Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave David Paulison said.

The May 11, 1996, crash killed 110 passengers and crew members. The Atlanta-bound plane crashed into the Everglades while trying to make an emergency return to Miami.

Investigators said the mishandling and packaging of oxygen generators placed in the plane’s cargo hold led to the crash. The generators were missing required safety caps, which led to a fire just minutes after taking off from Miami International Airport.

The remains of one of the victims, Joyce Simonton, were never identified. Her son said her Bible and a few belongings from her luggage were recovered from the murky waters.

Paulison commended first responders and officials who he said made sure the focus was primarily on the families affected by the tragedy.

“We made a purposeful decision that the families were going to come first and Chief Alvarez was in charge of that. He was our point person,” Paulison said.

Jane and Warren Lathem live in Georgia. Their son Ray would have been 45 years old now, had he not been one of the victims of the crash.

“It’s a little surreal,” Jane said. “A lot has happened in 25 years.”

Warren recalled the chilling moments he found out about the crash.

“I was at the church preparing for the service, and someone walked in and said, ‘Wasn’t it terrible about that plane crash in Miami,’” he said.

Warren said he knew in his gut right then that it was his son’s plane that went down, though it took about an hour before it was confirmed to he and his family.

“He was coming back from a mission trip to Venezuela,” Jane said. “As a result we started going to Venezuela and established a Methodist church there, a seminary, a clinic.”

The FBI is still searching for Mauro Valenzuela-Reyes, 47, who was a mechanic for the now-defunct airline maintenance contractor SabreTech. Authorities said he was among those responsible for placing the oxygen canisters inside the plane.

He disappeared in 1999 while facing federal charges.

The FBI said Valenzuela-Reyes has connections in Atlanta, where his ex-wife and kids live, and Santiago, Chile, where he also has family and could be living under a false identity.

If captured, Valenzuela-Reyes would face the original charges, in addition to charges for fleeing and failing to appear at his trial.

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.


About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.