LAWRENCEVILLE - For the family of three Floridians killed in a Christmas Day plane crash, the holiday will never be the same.
"It tarnishes the whole spirit and meaning of Christmas," Jim Thiele said. "Time might heal some of the wounds, but Christmas will always be tarnished."
Thiele is a cousin of 43-year-old Norma Mucha, who was killed with her husband and daughter when the plane 44-year-old Michael Mucha was piloting crashed just outside the Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field.
The family will hold a service for Norma and Michael Mucha and their 16-year-old daughter, Samantha Mucha, at Snellville United Methodist Church at 3 p.m. today. The family will be cremated, with a funeral service to be held in Davie, Fla., where they lived.
Relatives were having a hard time accepting the deaths, Thiele said. A son, 20-year-old Christopher Mucha, was not on the plane bound for Gwinnett County because he had to work, Thiele said. He is currently in the county with relatives.
"He is just absolutely, utterly devastated," Thiele said.
Thiele, who lives in Grayson, said the Muchas were a tight-knit group.
"They were just an awesome family," he said. "They did everything together. They were just the closest family spending time together. They traveled extensively, they did it all."
The three family members were coming to visit Norma Mucha's parents, a trip they had made more than 20 times, Thiele said, when the twin-engine Cessna 414 Chancellor piloted by Michael Mucha crashed just outside the airport around 8:40 p.m.
Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the pilot lost contact with the airport's air traffic control tower around 8:30 p.m. He had tried to make an instrument landing, but missed on his first attempt, she said, possibly because of heavy fog in the area. According to the National Weather Service, visibility an hour before the crash was about half a mile.
The plane crashed into a rock conveyer belt at a CWM Contracting Co. plant near the intersection of U.S. Highway 29 and Boulderbrook Circle in Lawrenceville, said Eric Alleyne, an aviation safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. Alleyne said it could be six months to a year before the cause of the crash is known.
Thiele said Michael Mucha had been a pilot for 41⁄2 years and had owned a flight school, Airline Training Academy. The school was a way for him to combine his love of flying and his business, Thiele said.
"He was an exceptional pilot," Thiele said. "He was very by-the-book. That's what makes it all the more bizarre."
Norma Mucha was a fifth-grade teacher at Flamingo Elementary School in Broward County, Fla., Thiele said, and Samantha Mucha was a high school junior who loved to dance ballet and tap.
Michael Mucha formerly owned a business that was not without controversy. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, he reached plea deals in 2001 and 2004 on charges that he failed to provide worker's compensation for Bob's Towing employees working on city bids. Thiele said he did not know anything about the situation.