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Spokane missionaries in Zambia die in plane crash

Jay and Katrina Erickson, with their daughters Marina, right, and Coral. The Spokane couple died Saturday in a plane crash in northwest Zambia, where they served as missionaries. (Chitokoloki Mission Hospital )
Jay and Katrina Erickson, with their daughters Marina, right, and Coral. The Spokane couple died Saturday in a plane crash in northwest Zambia, where they served as missionaries. (Chitokoloki Mission Hospital )

A Spokane couple doing missionary work in Africa died over the weekend in a plane crash in northwest Zambia, leaving behind two young children.

Jay and Katrina Erickson, who attended Hillyard Baptist Church, were killed Saturday when the six-seat Cessna aircraft Jay was piloting crashed into the Zambezi River. Their daughters, 2-year-old Marina and 1-year-old Coral, had stayed behind at the Chitokoloki Mission Hospital where the couple worked.

“They were living their dream and doing what they thought the Lord wanted them to do,” Pastor Ron Ulmer of Hillyard Baptist said Monday.

The couple, both in their late 20s, met at Moody Bible Institute in Spokane and were married in 2008. They traveled to Zambia in late February to begin a year-long mission to transport food, medical supplies, doctors and missionaries between the 150-bed mission hospital and other remote outposts.

“They made a dent, even if it was a small one,” Ulmer said.

Chitokoloki Mission Hospital issued a statement about the accident on its website: “We feel absolutely distraught and completely overwhelmed with sadness, agony and grief over this and so helpless that we could not do something more.”

Jay Erickson, who previously worked at Stewart Title, trained as an airplane mechanic and bush pilot at Moody Aviation, a branch of Moody Bible Institute.

The hospital said he had flown three passengers earlier in the day and that Katrina joined her husband for another trip to transport a nurse. On their return the plane hit an electrical pylon and went into the river near the town of Zambezi. It was her first time flying with Jay since they arrived in Zambia, the hospital said.

The plane was submerged in the swift water and rescuers could not reach it immediately. The bodies were recovered Sunday with the help of Zambia Air Force divers.

A funeral service was planned at Chitokoloki for Tuesday, and the couple will be buried at the mission there, with the permission of the couple’s parents, according to the hospital.

Jay’s parents also were missionaries, and he spent some time with them in Africa as a child, Ulmer said. They now live in Seattle.

Katrina’s parents, who live in Wisconsin, are preparing to travel to Zambia with Jay’s mother to reunite with their granddaughters, Ulmer said. The girls will return to Spokane, and the church will hold a memorial service for their parents in a few weeks, he said.

“Life is very short,” Ulmer said. “It’s just good to know that God’s grace was there.”

In an April 20 blog post, Jay Erickson wrote he had been pondering death since he arrived at the hospital. “Living next door to a bush hospital, we hear quite clearly the wails of mourning with each death. And these occur frequently, being about every other day.”

He also wrote that “there is nothing sad about the death of a Christian. The only sadness (and I do not intend to belittle this aspect) is in the loss of companionship by those left behind.”

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