Jim & Rita Cwengros (left); Matt Kutsche (top right); Mary LaPonsie (bottom right)
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - The moment four local families have waited six excruciating days for finally came Thursday evening at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
Matt Kutsche, Mary LaPonsie, and Jim and Rita Cwengros all died in a car crash last Friday while on a medical mission. Their bodies were flown home on a chartered jet. The plane landed around 6:15 p.m.
The four were killed when the brakes on their SUV failed, causing the vehicle to go through a guardrail and plunge down a steep hillside, into a ravine.
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Thirteen of the 14 other missionaries from the group have already arrived back in Grand Rapids, with the leader of the trip choosing to stay in Haiti.
It took several days for the U.S. and Haiti to work out the details of Thursday's flight with the remains.
"My nephew was, was one of the members that was deceased, my daughter was also on the trip," said Jon Hess. The Kent County Undersheriff broke down briefly while speaking about Kutsche. Hess helped lead the efforts to bring him home.
"It's a labor of love, something we had to do. Unfortunately in my business, this is one of the ways we get through things like this, we try to be the rock and make things happen, so maybe when this is all done tonight I'll break down," said Hess.
Emotions were sure to run high for all the families as waiting hearses followed the jet into the hanger. The people who aided in the return of the bodies to West Michigan this quickly came from all directions. Hess said international groups, Senator Carl Levin, Congressman Bill Huizenga, the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the DeVos family, and Autocam Corporation all stepped up.
Brian DeBruyne has also worked tiredlessly to help. His wife is one of the missionaries who returned safely. DeBruyne shared memories of the final moments the group had with the four victims before the accident.
"They were on fire, and the stories we're hearing from the night before they headed up the mountain were they were ready to go do their work," said DeBruyne.
Hess is grateful this community has worked just as hard for them.
"Don't underestimate the strength and togetherness of the community in Grand Rapids," he said.
Funeral arrangments are still being made. Hess says the victims' families want to attend all of the funerals, so they're coordinating. There is also talk of putting together a fund in memory of the victims.