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Kurt Hildebrand, Special to the Appeal

Photo by Kurt HildebrandConnie Steele is working to establish a memorial to plane crash victims, both in the Sierra and Sept. 11.

Connie Steele’s first experience with death was while helping her dad salvage metal from the March 1, 1964, Paradise Airlines crash during that summer.

The 7-year-old twin was put to work gathering fillings that had fallen out during the impact that killed 85 people on Genoa Peak, high above Carson Valley.

It was just one of several fatal air crashes she visited as a child.

Steele is now working to have a memorial established to the victims of plane crashes in general and the four on Sept. 11, specifically.

“When I visited the site again 12 years ago, I cried for two hours, in fact I wailed,” she said. “I used it as the repository for all my grief because there was no way I could visit all the sites we went to.”

Steele, 45, moved to Carson City from the Bay area about two years ago, after her mother and father died within months of each other. She felt the move would be a good way to get in touch with a childhood spent wandering fields strewn with aircraft wreckage.

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Connie was one of twins born in Grass Valley, Calif., in 1956 to Jim and Ann Olga Steele.

Her father was a U.S. Navy pipe fitter who started his own scrap metal business in the 1950s. Steele’s business had a twist. He salvaged aluminum from plane crashes, she said.

Jim Steele grew up in Nevada and California, where his father sought gold.

The first crash site he worked was the one that killed Carol Lombard on Potosi Mountain in Southern Nevada, according to his daughter.

The Lombard crash occurred in 1942, and Jim Steele was authorized to recover the metal many years later.

Jim Steele did his salvage work by feeding aluminum into a furnace and converting the metal to ingots.

By the time Connie was 3 years old, she was accompanying her father to crash sites, but it was the Paradise crash that left a lasting mark on her life.

Steele was 7 when she and her two sisters helped their father pick up metal from the gambler’s special some three months after the crash.

Steele says she remembers everything about the Paradise crash site.

“I remember thinking it had to be the most beautiful place on earth,” she said.

Her job was to bag the gold fillings from the teeth of the passengers.

The Paradise Airlines flight crashed when it hit the mountain during a blizzard

“They tried to use blowers to melt the snow so they could recover all the bodies,” she said. “But there were still teeth and bits of bone all over the place. We cleaned up that site, but you can still find pieces of aluminum metal all over the place.”

Today a cross stands at the site with granite boulders piled around it.

Steele laid a wreath at the site when she visited in 1990.

Steele says she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of San Francisco and her law degree in 1988 from the University of California at Hastings. That is when the health problems that would plague her for the rest of her life began.

She never passed the bar exam in California and worked doing legal contract work until 1999 when her mother and father both died.

She died in Edmonton, Canada with what Connie describes as 40 tumors. Her father died at the family home in Grass Valley at age 81.

Steele blames the numerous contaminants she came in contact with during her childhood at plane crash sites for her health problems.

She has been in contact with Floyd Sands, whose daughter died in the Fallon leukemia cluster.

Sands is distributing surveys to Fallon residents in an attempt to find out the cluster cause. Steele says she has taken the survey and plans to help distribute them herself.

“I’m seeking a source for my own problems,” she said.

Her ultimate goal is to establish a monument to the people of the Paradise Airlines flights as a way to deal with the grief of their loss.

“It would be nice to honor these people,” she said. “Perhaps with a monument where people can go to contemplate so they can start moving forward. The healing process takes a long time. It would be a way to offer some closure to people.”