Airport tragedy: One year later

FlightSafety International Building, Photo Taken: January 2015
FlightSafety International Building, Photo Taken: January 2015

WICHITA, Kansas — One year ago Friday, a twin-engine plane crashed into the FlightSafety building at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, killing four people.  On the anniversary of the tragedy, KSN sat down with the widower of one of the victims to catch up with him.

Larry and Nataliya Menestrina
Larry and Nataliya Menestrina

A treasured birthday card speaks ‘well wishes’ a year later to Larry Menestrina whose wife, Nataliya was one of the people on the ground in the FlightSafety simulator who died.

“In her handwriting she wrote, ‘Honey… I can’t imagine my world without you. Happy Birthday. Love, Sweetheart’,” said Menestrina.  “She talked about her world without me, and now I live my world without her.”

FlightSafety International Building, Photo Taken: January 2015
FlightSafety International Building, Photo Taken: January 2015

Menestrina recalls that day vividly.

“They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and she sang it in her beautiful little sing-songy Ukrainian accent. which was always so beautiful.”

A festive display on the family’s fire-place remains, the presents from Nataliya, never opened.

“I’m not ready to take all that stuff down,” said Menestrina. “Because, if that wasn’t up, there would be nothing. It’s a reminder.”

Recalling the last time they spoke, Menestrina said “I was downstairs paying bills, and she came by, and, and, uh, said, ‘Sweetheart, I’m going to bed now.’  It never crossed my mind that that would be the last time that I would not, you know, ever see her again.

Less than 12 hours later, on Thursday, October 30th, his word changed.

“I came to the Airport Road and I saw the black, billowing flames come out, and I didn’t know exactly which part of the building she was in.  “I said, ‘I think my wife is in that building.’”

At the time of her death, Nataliya Menestrina was working as a Russian translator for FlightSafety International.  When the plane crashed, she was inside a simulator in the building.

IMG_0882“I just kept looking at a hallway, and I thought, ‘Any minute, she’s gonna be walking around with one of her goofy, little grins’ and I’m going to… I’m gonna run up to her and give her a big hug, said Menestrina, crying.

Larry Menestrina calls his ‘late wife’ his soul mate.

“Suddenly, tragically, it’s gone,” he said. “It just leaves a void in your heart, that, it’s gone.”

Menestrina says it was most difficult to have to tell their children that their mother passed away.

“I had to exhibit strength and courage,” Larry said.

That courage was bolstered by his wife’s loving memory.

“It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder of how much she loved and cared for me.”

That love giving Larry Menestrina the strength to celebrate birthdays all year long.

A birthday card given to Larry Menestrina by his wife, Ntaliya. (Photo by KSN's Raoul Cortez)
A birthday card given to Larry Menestrina by his wife, Nataliya. (Photo by KSN’s Raoul Cortez)

“I’m gonna do my darndest to keep my wife’s memory alive. For my daughters.”

Larry Menestrina said he’ll take down that fireplace display some day.  But right now, he says he’s just not ready…

Menestrina visits the building on special occasions.

It’s important for him to visit the FlightSafety building, he says, because that’s where it all happened, where everything ended for his precious wife.

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