SAN JOSE -- With five wooden caskets arrayed before them, the families of five people killed in a small plane crash over the holidays said the tragedy has only reinforced their Mormon faith and their belief that the dead have gone on to a better place.
During a nearly three-hour service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in East San Jose on Saturday, the victims were remembered for their faith and dedication -- especially to their Mormon missions that, in many cases, proudly shaped their lives.
Dale Smith's wife, Janis, was not scheduled to speak. But in impromptu comments, she told the mourners that the outpouring and efforts of thousands of people to find her family have brought her "an overwhelming feeling of peace. ... This experience has brought out the best in all of us."
Her husband, Dale, was flying the Beechcraft Bonanza that disappeared Dec. 1 in rugged, snowy Idaho terrain, killing Smith's son, Daniel, 26; Daniel's wife, Sheree Anne (Chalmers); Smith's daughter, Amber, 20, and her fiance, Jonathan Norton, who were scheduled to be married the day after their bodies were found Jan. 10.
Barry Chalmers, Sheree's father, told the gathering that "our loved ones are in a place filled with family, filled with a great light. ... I know that they're surrounded by beauty."
Steve Smith remembered his son's sense of adventure and curiosity that began as a 9-month-old, when his dad brought him along on his flying lessons. Later, as a toddler, young Smith would fall asleep on the tank of his father's motorcycle, his helmet bouncing up and down with the vibrations, as his father drove for hours getting supplies to repair a dilapidated home in Chico.
"Life was an adventure ... that he felt was something not to be wasted," Steve Smith said.
Bryan Moore, Daniel Smith's uncle by marriage, said sports, video games and other skills came easily to Smith, just like his ability to adapt and make friends during his two-year mission toJohannesburg, South Africa.
There were other missionaries named Smith in South Africa, so Daniel Smith differentiated himself on his first day by identifying himself as "Agent Smith," like "The Matrix" movies.
Smith was patient and loving, especially with children, Moore said, and would have made an excellent father.
"Surely he will be a fantastic father after this life," Moore said.
Crystal Christensen called her sister, Amber, "my best friend" -- especially after Amber moved to Provo, Utah, last year to take care of Christensen for four months while Christensen underwent cancer treatment.
Christensen called her sister "selfless and loving." She not only washed Christensen's dishes, but also pushed her wheelchair so they could go shopping for clothes.
It was nothing new for Amber.
As a 4-year-old, Amber had saved her baby brother from being accidentally run over by their father as he backed out of the garage. As an 11-year-old, long before she went on to study accounting at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Amber saved up her weekly $1 allowance to buy a $450 tool shed that she used as a clubhouse.
At BYU-Idaho, one of Amber's professors had her substitute when the professor could not be in class. Other professors wrote that she was a "bright light in class," Christensen said.
"There's something much better and brighter waiting for her," Christensen said.
Amber's fiance, Norton, was remembered by his mother, Lynette Norton, as a young man who slept with scriptures and would often ask that his mother pray for him.
She never prayed so hard as after his plane went down in December, an experience that made her feel even more connected "to the love and humanity" that surrounded the search and subsequent outpouring of grief and compassion.
"It is the gift I will always treasure," Lynette Norton said.
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.