Plane crash: Grieving families thankful for support, help

Plane crash: Grieving families thankful for support, help »Play Video
Matt Ahrens, Shyann Lenz and her mother Trista Meyer were killed when their small plane crashed in the rugged mountains of Utah. (Meyer Family Photo courtesy of Gillette News Record)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The families are struggling with grief, but grateful for all the support and assistance they got during the search for a missing plane. There were no survivors, but the aircraft wreckage was found one week after it went missing.

"I want to thank everyone who's prayed for us, and for Trista's family," Donna Moran told Eyewitness News on Monday. "We still need those prayers." Her brother, 37-year-old Matthew Ahrens, was the pilot of the plane that went down with girlfriend Trista Meyer and her daughter on board.

"Although the results were not what we had hoped for, the very fact that so many people were willing to lend their hand in any way that they could, I will never forget that," Mark Lenz said by phone from Wyoming. He's the father of 9-year-old Shyann Lenz, Meyer's daughter.

All the families got word on Sunday that the plane was finally spotted in a rugged area of Utah.

Ahrens had taken off the previous Sunday from Minter Field in Shafter. Moran said her brother fueled up in Tehachapi, and stopped again for fuel in Fillmore, Utah on their way to Wyoming. That's the last time loved ones heard from the travelers.

"Trista had texted her sister to tell her they would be three hours out," Moran said. Ahrens grews up in Bakersfield but had been living and working in Wyoming, the sister said. His girlfriend was from the area of Gillette, Wyo.

A massive search had started when the three didn't reach their destination.

"I know the search area was huge," Moran said. "I understood it was like finding less than a needle in a haystack, and it's very rugged."

Moran lives in Tehachapi, and other relatives live in Bakersfield. One brother is also a pilot, and he was part of the search in the first few days. They waited, and held out hope.

"Matthew was an avid outdoors person and so was Trista," Moran said. "And they're very resourceful. And that's why we knew if they were able to land, they would be able to survive. If they were able to land safely."

The search ended Sunday morning, Dec. 2. A statement from Sevier County, Utah, says a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter spotted the plane just before 8 a.m.

Moran said her family heard about the search results and confirmed that with a Civil Air Patrol chaplain. In Wyoming, Lenz got a call from a federal official, and then he said Meyer's aunt came to his home.

"She sat next to me and told me that they had found the plane and there were no survivors," the father says. Shortly after that, Lenz says police officers and a CAP chaplain arrived.

"I think the world really lost someone special when Shyanne went," Lenz said, breaking down in tears. "The world we live in is a darker place now because she's not here."

Lenz said later he got a phone call from searchers in Utah, and they promised to mark the spot where the plane went down. He plans to go there next summer when it's safer to reach the area.

"Any way that I can get closer to that little girl, I'll be there," Lenz said. "At the very spot where she took her last breath." He's convinced his ex-wife tried to protect the child during the crash.

"I know that the first thing she would have done is she would have unbuckled, and thrown herself over Shyann to protect her," Lenz says about Meyer. "The fact that they were so close together (in the wreckage), kind of tells me that that's what happened."

Moran said her brother had been a pilot for a number of years, and was very proud of his plane -- reported to be a 1982 Piper Archer. "It was in tip top condition," the sister said about the aircraft. "That's the way everything he had was."

The families don't know anything about what could have caused the accident. The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, according to the Sevier County Sheriff's Office.

That office also reports the victims' bodies have been taken to the Utah Medical Examiners Office to pinpoint the cause of death.

Donna Moran said her family wants to thank everyone who helped in the search, sent messages and prayers. "I want everybody to know how grateful we are to them," she said.

Lenz has the same message, he's grateful for all the support.

"Now I've got to find some way that I can get up and keep going without her," the father said. "The world lost three good people."