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Obituary: Simchuk, George Johnam

Age 75

SIMCHUK, George Johnam October 15, 1938 - April 1, 2014 On April 1st, George Johnam Simchuk, beloved father, son, brother, husband, and journeyman through the full measure of life, died in a tragic plane crash in the heavily forested mountains of northwest Guatemala with his wife Colleen Sanger. He was 75. The two were on a routine flight to Roatan, which had departed Tapachula, Mexico earlier that morning. The flight was routine for Mr. Simchuk, who had been flying in Central America for the last 15 years as a volunteer airman for Lighthawk Aviation. Villagers of San Rafael, who witnessed the accident, stated that it sounded as if the engine was failing and the pilot was attempting to restart the motor, all while circling their village three times in heavy instrument conditions, trying to get below the cloud deck and find a place to set down safely. A resident of Sandpoint, Idaho since 1988, Mr. Simchuk was the first child born on October 15, 1938 to John and Loretta Simchuk in Spokane, Washington. The Simchuk family in those days resided on a farm in the Airway Heights area, where they farmed alfalfa, raised vegetables and herded dairy cattle. Mr. Simchuk’s father founded a sporting goods store in downtown Spokane around the time of George’s birth, which eventually grew into a three-story sports department store. Many residents of Spokane will recall purchasing their first pair of skis at Simchuk’s Sporting Goods. George Simchuk was the first of six children, all of whom grew up supporting the family farm and sporting goods store, while maintaining a full life at school and sports activities. The family’s first love, however, was skiing, and many days each year were spent on Mt. Spokane. After graduating from Cheney High School in 1956, Mr. Simchuk attended Washington State University, where he studied Mining Engineering. He was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and skied for the Washington State University Ski Team. He married his first wife Sherry Sue Leonard on January 28, 1961 before graduating with a B.S. in Mining Engineering in 1963. His spirit of adventure showed its colors in his acceptance of his first job at one of the largest copper mines in the world in Chuquicamata, Chile. The family lived in Chile from 1965-70, where both their children, Mark and Erik were born. Mr. Simchuk eventually was promoted to Chief Mine Engineer. It was in Chile that Mr. Simchuk first learned to fly, frequently taking the family on flights into Peru to visit desert oases. After returning from Chile, Mr. Simchuk had a long and distinguished career in the mining industry, working on coal projects in New Mexico, uranium projects in Colorado and Wyoming, and gold Projects in California. He became well known in the industry for his expertise in mine project development with his work on Homestake’s Pitch Project, a uranium mine located near Gunnison, Colorado. After retiring, he was often pulled back by friends and colleagues in the industry to handle difficult issues in mine development in the Central and South Americas. It was, however, his passion for flying that drove his spirit forward. He was a man that was always searching for the next “big” adventure. In retirement, he found great meaning in volunteerism. Utilizing his extensive flight experience he spent time in Arusha, Tanzania, flying medical missions into the bush country of Tanzania and Kenya. He would be frequently found on those missions surrounded by hundreds of children in need of vaccinations and further medical care. In Central America he flew for Lighthawk Aviation, a not-for-profit organization, donating aircraft and pilots across North and Central America to promote conservation measures and environmental protection. In recent years, he has flown numerous missions for Angel Flight, giving free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically related need. On his 75th birthday, Mr. Simchuk flew a woman in need of treatment for pancreatic cancer to a Seattle hospital. In 2013, he was awarded Pilot of the Year from Angel Flight for the Western Region. Mr. Simchuk was an active member in his community of Sandpoint, Idaho, belonging to the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and racing in the Masters Ski series at Schweitzer Basin. He thrilled his friends and family when competing in the Super G this last winter, but during the summer months could often be found sitting with friends in his hangar sharing tales of flying adventures. Mr. Simchuk is survived by his sons, Mark and Erik; four grand-children; and by his siblings John, Rook, Janice, Charles and Lorraine. Funeral Service 1PM Friday, June 13, 2014 at Heritage Chapel with graveside service following at Fairmount Memorial Park.