Special Reports

Tragedy of Flight 261: 'This has just been terrible'

Monte Donaldson wanted the sun to follow him back home to the gray Puget Sound when he returned from three weeks in Mexico.

"Hoping to bring back some sol for ya'll," he wrote Thursday in his last e-mail to his family.

But Tuesday only rain soaked the Graham house where Donaldson grew up. The day before, the plane taking him to Sea-Tac Airport from Puerto Vallarta crashed off the California coast.

Donaldson, 31, and his fiancee, Colleen Whorley, 34, both of Seattle, were among the 88 people killed in the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261.

"We are just still in shock," said Donaldson's mother, Bonnie Fuller, her face expressionless. "This has been terrible, but I am sure there are going to be worse days ahead."

Less than 24 hours after the crash, Donaldson's immediate family gathered in the living room of their home in east Pierce County. More of the family was on the way home.

Water droplets dripped from the ceiling onto a couch. Fuller had the volume on the television, turned to a cable cooking show, turned down. Occasionally, the family turned to the news for the latest updates on the crash.

"I can't not watch it," Fuller said, tears starting to sting her eyes. "When I saw the bodies lined up it was pretty hard. I wondered which one was Monte."

Fuller sat on the couch and wrapped her arm around her youngest daughter, Tori Fuller, as the 26-year-old read the two e-mail messages Donaldson sent from Mexico. The eldest of three siblings, he wrote about the fun he and Whorley were having.

"Monte is very poetic," Bonnie Fuller said. "He e-mailed us quite often when he was away."

Donaldson, a 1986 graduate of Bethel High School, worked at a landscaping firm in Seattle.

Whorley, a Seattle native, worked at Microsoft as a graphic artist. Her family could not be reached.

Donaldson and Whorley met at Western Washington University in Bellingham. Bonnie Fuller said the two were friends for several years before becoming an item.

Donaldson proposed to Whorley on Labor Day weekend and they planned to marry in September. Bonnie Fuller said the family already thought of Whorley as their daughter-in-law.

"We just thought she was the most special thing in the world," she said. "She was very nature, very unmade up, very loving."

The couple had traveled to Mexico with Whorley's family three weeks ago. The rest of the family returned a week later, leaving the couple to explore the country.

While they were gone, Adam Suhl stayed at their home and took care of Lucy, their black Labrador Retriever mix.

"They were wonderful people," Suhl said "This is just so unreal."

A friend of Suhl's family first heard about the crash and called Suhl. Later, Bonnie Fuller heard the news on the radio and called Suhl to get her son's flight number.

"We weren't picking him up from the airport so we had no reason to know what airline he was on," she said. "We were just praying he was late and missed the flight."

The Fullers rushed to the airport and were intercepted by Alaska Airlines officials, who told them Donaldson and Whorley were on Flight 261.

The family spent several hours Monday night in an auditorium set aside for grieving friends and family members. The Fullers gave airline officials descriptions of Donaldson and Whorley but still don't know whether the couple's bodies have been recovered.

Tuesday, the phone rang steadily at Donaldson's childhood home as friends and family members offered condolences and support.

Alaska Airlines employees assigned to help the family over the next couple of days periodically checked in. Tuesday, the airline brought Bonnie's daughter, Desirae Donaldson, to Graham from San Francisco. For now, the Fullers don't plan on going to California.

"I don't feel like I need to go to the site," said Bonnie Fuller, again choking back tears. "If they have a memorial service, perhaps I might have to go."

Added Tori Fuller, "Their souls aren't at the crash site. They're right here with us."

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* Reach staff writer Stacey Burns at 253-597-8268 or stacey.burns@mail.tribnet.com.

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SIDEBAR: Here is Monte Donaldson's last e-mail to his family in Graham.

Jan. 27, 2000 6:56 p.m.

We are back in Oaxaca city, fulling emersed in our favorite foods and drinks. The long scary bus ride through the mountains helped us get over our sadness of leaving the beach.

Zipolite was grand relaxation amid a surf-tormented shore. Even though many people were mingling about, the beauty could not be obscured or overlooked.

On a happy note, we are glad to be back here where the Mexican culture is alive, thriving and beautiful. We are well and very happy. In four days we will be back in Puerta Vallarta and then home I suppose soon thereafter.

Hoping to bring back some sol for ya'll.