Families in Md. fear the worst

Couples from Shore, Randallstown thought to have been abroad

'A horrible waiting time'

The Crash Of Flight 990

November 01, 1999|By Todd Richissin and Rafael Alvarez | Todd Richissin and Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Arthur and Marie Simermeyer had intended to fly to Egypt last week. But in an act of graciousness that friends say defined the Randallstown couple, they postponed their vacation to the Great Pyramids for the wedding of the daughter of longtime friends.

They rebooked their trip and left yesterday.

Friends and family of the Simermeyers spent their Sunday praying and clinging to the dimming hope that the couple were not aboard EgyptAir Flight 990, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean early yesterday.

All 217 passengers and crew members are presumed dead. Although the airline had not released a passenger list last night, at least six Marylanders -- the Simermeyers and two couples from the Eastern Shore -- are believed to have been aboard.

According to family members and local officials, Donald and Jeanne "Bea" Heck and their Chestertown neighbors John and Joann Schelpert were flying to Cairo on Flight 990.

And returning home on the flight was a small group of Egyptian exchange students who had recently completed two weeks at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore.

The students' identities were not available last night. Baltimore school officials said the group from Luxor, a sister city of Baltimore, consisted of three teen-agers, a male chaperon and his 12-year-old daughter.

The Simermeyers had been scheduled to board the plane, heading from New York to Cairo, on a trip that Marie Simermeyer had particularly looked forward to. All indications are they did. As night fell, their family had not received a hoped-for phone call telling them that the Simermeyers had somehow missed their flight.

"It's just so ironic that they were never supposed to be on that plane," said Carolyn Anderson, whose daughter's wedding delayed the Simermeyers' trip. "It really makes you feel that somebody else is in charge and that this was their time."

Arthur Simermeyer, 72, a retired assistant director for the Social Security Administration's Randallstown bureau, and Marie Simermeyer, 61, a homemaker, raised four daughters and a son in Owings Mills before moving to Randallstown.

Their son, John Simermeyer, 45, of Finksburg asked yesterday that he and his sisters be left to themselves and their friends until their parents' fate is known.

"We're waiting for confirmation that they were on the flight," he said. "If that's the case, all of us in the family will dearly miss them."

Fixtures at church

The Simermeyers have been fixtures at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Randallstown. Marie Simermeyer would never let lingering health problems keep her from attending Mass, said their pastor, the Rev. Edward Bayer.

Arthur Simermeyer was quick to volunteer, working at the church's soup kitchen on Saturday nights and administering Communion to the sick whenever someone was in need, the pastor said.

During announcements at morning Mass, parishioners were told that the couple might have been aboard the plane. The news was met with silent prayer.

"Obviously, this is a tough time for a lot of people," Bayer said. "It's a horrible waiting time right now."

He said the Simermeyers were traveling as part of a tour group called Elderhostel Inc. The company, based in Boston, sponsors educational travel trips.

Its spokeswoman, Cady Goldfield, said yesterday that the company had no confirmation on passengers and would not have details on who was scheduled to be on the flight until this morning.

"We're scrambling like everyone else to get the information out," she said.

`People here are close'

The day was also hard at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Glyndon, where John Simermeyer is a parishioner and Kristin Driscoll of Finksburg, one of the couple's daughters, teaches kindergarten.

"We're a large parish, but people here are close and word gets around quickly," said Sister Jude Cianfrogna, who spoke with Driscoll and said the Simermeyers' daughter was distraught.

"We've talked to the family just to let them know we're with them," she said.

The Simermeyers' other daughters are Maureen Sacratini of Finksburg; Kathy Mikolivich of Long Island, N.Y., and Carol Cowan of Randallstown.

Anderson, the Simermeyers' friend, said the couple had traveled extensively, in the United States and abroad.

This trip, she said, seemed to be special.

"Marie, especially, was really looking forward to this trip," Anderson said. "We used to tease her that camels have fleas so she better be careful, and she'd just say she didn't care, she's going to Egypt."

Arthur Simermeyer, said to be a strong 72-year-old, had plans beyond traveling to the Middle East. "His parents both lived to 100 years of age," Anderson said. "And he expected to do the same."

Trip planned together

Jean Pontius of Lancaster, Pa., said last night that her sister Joann Schelpert, 71, loved to travel with her husband, retired New York state obstetrician-gynecologist John Schelpert. The couple had been married for at least 46 years, she said.

Like the Hecks, with whom they had planned the trip, the Schelperts had retired to Chestertown. The Hecks retired to the Shore town in 1994 from Gaithersburg. The Schelperts arrived in 1993. The couples' homes are a block from each other, near the Chester River.

"Four or five years ago [the Schelperts] planned a trip to Egypt but had to cancel because of terrorism," said Pontius, who described her sister as a gregarious mother of four and grandmother of nine. "They did a lot of traveling."

Mary Lane McVay, a cousin of Bea Heck who lives in Chestertown, said family members feared their loved ones were dead but were waiting for confirmation.

"They were going to take a trip down the Nile from Cairo to Luxor," McVay said. "My cousin was the greatest woman alive."

For information

EgyptAir has established a special telephone number for people to contact the airline if they believe they know someone abroad Flight 990. It is 800-243-1094

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