Alaska Flight 261: 20 years after crash off Ventura County coast, loved gather to honor 88 victims

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (KABC) -- Twenty years after the Alaska Airlines crash which claimed the lives of 88 people, friends and family members gathered in Port Hueneme to remember the lives of their lost loved ones.

Flight 261 was traveling from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco on Jan. 31, 2000 when a mechanical malfunction inverted the jet and sent it downward off the Ventura County coast.

The community, including all those who were directly affected by loss, has since grown into a support system for emotional healing.

"To me it feels like I'm coming home, all these people are my family and it's hard. I've lost my family but it's great to come see everyone and kind of keep the memory of my family alive every year," Kim Ryan said.

In the wake of the crash, Ventura County's coastal communities assembled to offer help and compassion to the affected friends and family members. Private boat owners and tugs from Port Hueneme worked through the night, scouring the waters for belongings to turn over to the Coast Guard.

The families of the vicitms also led a revolt against the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration, which resulted in design changes and requirements for more maintenance.

On Friday, volunteers and community members visited the monument erected for the tragedy, a giant sundial which casts a shadow at 4:22 p.m., the moment the malfunction doomed the flight. Every year, visitors come back to clean and bring back the luster of the 88 plaques dedicated to each of the victims.

"Everybody has helped us. It's so hard though, but one way or another we are making it through with everyone helping us," Ryan said.
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