Three East Texans Die In Florida Mid-Air Collision - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

06/19/03 - Pittsburg

Three East Texans Die In Florida Mid-Air Collision

Mark Willey, his wife Susan, and daughter Shelbi were in Florida where Mark had just begun flight school.

From Mount Vernon, Mark had married his wife just two years ago, and they were enjoying starting a new life in the Sunshine State. Then the tragic accident Tuesday night.

"It was the first time they had flown with him, and they were very excited," says brother James Willey.

Mark, Susan, and Shelbi were up for their first flight together, just off the coast of Broward County, Florida. For reasons unknown -- perhaps glare from the sun -- Mark's plane collided head on with another. Two missionary workers returning from the Bahamas died as well.

"We didn't want to believe it," says Mark's sister Loretta Henderson. "We couldn't believe it. Mark was a very careful and we couldn't imagine that he had such an accident."

Mark wanted to be a commercial pilot.

"He was just a real likable guy." His family says a cross between Jeff Foxworthy and Alan Jackson, a personality that matched Susan's two years ago.

"Susan was a wonderful person. A delight to be around," Loretta says.

James says, "Shelby had gone out to visit on summer vacation for a couple of weeks."

Shelby was marks 12-year-old daughter. She was to enter the seventh grade back in Pittsburg this fall.

"Shelby was just a fun loving teenager, was involved in gymnastics and cheer," Loretta says.

James: "Mark had lived here in this town his entire life, and Shelbi had lived here her entire life. "

They were lives that were taking a new direction, that ended so tragically, and inexplicably.

But... together.

"[Mark] was doing what he loved, and he was with the people that he loved the most, so we can take some comfort in that," Loretta says.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause. Mark's family says Mark, Susan, and Shelbi will be laid to rest here in East Texas, but they don't yet know just when.

Susan Willey was originally from Plano, and had two teenage sons from a previous marriage.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.

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