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'Forever young, forever together'

A St. Petersburg couple die in a plane crash on their honeymoon in Belize.

By ALEX LEARY
Published November 22, 2005


[Family photo]
Cristy and Douglas Scratchley Jr. were together for a decade before their St. Pete Beach wedding.

Still breathless from a climb amid the Mayan ruins of Belize, Cristy Scratchley typed an e-mail to family and friends back home.

"Our resort is fabulous (rubbing it in)," she wrote last Thursday. She told of close encounters with exotic animals and of eating termites with the locals. "Yum ... protein."

"Going back to the rainforest tomorrow, when we stay at Coppola's. Fun, fun, fun. See you all soon. Thanks again for making our wedding so special."

Married Nov. 12 in St. Pete Beach, Cristy and Douglas Scratchley Jr. never made it to filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's tony jungle lodge, the Blancaneaux.

Early Friday, as Tropical Storm Gamma swirled over the area, the resort-owned airplane they were on crashed, killing them and the pilot.

"The world was theirs," said Cristy's father, Dean Dye of Davenport, Iowa, his voice cracking.

"It's just total devastation," Melissa Rivers, a bridesmaid and Tampa co-worker of Mrs. Scratchley's, said Monday. "We've lost great friends. I'm just kind of numb."

The newlyweds lived in St. Petersburg and had been together for a decade, meeting at Portofino's restaurant at Sanibel Island. They lived for a while aboard a 26-foot sailboat, then moved to the Tampa Bay area to study at the University of South Florida.

He proposed aboard their houseboat last August, waking her with a kiss, then leading her to breakfast and champagne.

Mr. Scratchley, 36, was an electrical engineer at Honeywell Space Systems in Pinellas County. He recently worked as technical lead on a Department of Defense project.

His family, of Fort Myers, released a statement Monday expressing sorrow for the loss but "comfort in knowing how happy they were together. ... Forever young, forever together, forever in our thoughts and hearts."

Mrs. Scratchley, 32, studied chemistry and biology but gravitated to the business world, climbing the ranks at Spartan Staffing in Tampa.

She was responsible for training and mentoring staff members in 15 branch offices.

"She's obviously beautiful on the outside but even more beautiful in the inside," Dye said. "She'd do anything for anyone. Just truly caring."

Cristy Scratchley had won the trip to Belize in a contest on the website Travelocity.

She and her new husband stayed on Ambergris Caye, the largest of Belize's islands, known for its spectacular water and lush terrain.

A trip to the mainland brought the mystery of the Mayan ruins and jungle, where Cristy delighted at the sight of howler monkeys and toucans.

" "Unbelizeable, " was the subject line of her e-mail home.

On Friday morning, the Scratchleys took a small plane to Belize City then, just after 10 a.m., boarded a twin-engine Islander for the 35-minute trip to Blancaneaux Lodge, near the western border with Guatemala. The plane was named Sofia, after Coppola's daughter.

Kathleen Talbert, a spokeswoman for the lodge, said there was some cloud cover but it was not raining at departure.

When the plane did not show up at the lodge, a search was called. But weather conditions had worsened significantly and the effort from the air was suspended Friday.

A civilian search team found the wreckage Saturday afternoon in a hilly, dense area not far from the lodge.

Precisely what went wrong was unclear Monday. The cause is still under investigation.

Coppola is in Europe working on a film but was notified of the crash.

"He has expressed his sympathies," Talbert said. "We're in shock as well and very, very saddened by their loss and the pilot."

--Alex Leary can be reached at 893-8472 or leary@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 22, 2005, 07:22:04]


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