Family remembers Macon mom killed on birthday in 1996 plane crash

Family and friends remembered Joyce Simonton on her birthday and anniversary of her tragic death on Thursday / Brittany Collins (WGXA)

MACON, Ga. -- Family and friends gathered on Thursday night to remember Joyce Simonton, a former Macon teacher, who tragically died in a plane crash 21 years ago.

Simonton was one of the 110 people on board ValuJet flight 592 on May 11, 1996. The plane departed from Miami and was en route to Atlanta when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit.

The pilot tried to turn around, but the plane crashed into the Everglades on the day before Mother's Day.

It was also Simonton's 67th birthday. She was returning home to Georgia to celebrate with loved ones.

"We'd like to say happy birthday, mom," said her son Walter Simonton. "We still love you and we wish you were here with us."

What was supposed to be a celebration quickly turned into a nightmare when her family heard the news.

"I drove over to my mom's house," Walter said. "Once I got there, I saw neighbors and friends out in the yard. It hit me real hard then."

"Even until this day, this date and Mother's Day has a real touch on my heart," said her other son Chris Simonton.

Her family is saddened by the fact that Simonton missed special moments in their lives.

"I just miss having had the opportunity where she could celebrate occasions with me,"granddaughter Kristen Simonton-Grissom said. "My graduation from high school, my graduation from college twice, seeing me get married."

Now, they celebrate the memories of the lives she touched while teaching at Northeast High for 35 years.

"She was very calm," said former student Saketha Sarter. "She expected a lot of us. We gave it to her whatever she needed to make that grade."

"She inspired me to go back to school to further my education as many others," said her daughter-in-law Stephanie Simonton."

Many said she had a heart of gold.

"Just a very special person," said Simonton-Grissom. "If you came into, encounter with her, you left feeling something inside of you."

Simonton would have celebrated her 88th birthday.

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