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Colleagues remember doctor killed in plane crash

SOUTHERN HUMBOLDT - “It was like somebody shot me. A devastating blow to the heart. You can't believe it,” Lora Simone, X-Ray Technologist at Jerald Phelps Community Hospital, explained. 

The staff at Jerald Phelps Community Hospital is still reeling from the death of one of their doctors, Doctor Douglas Pleatman.

“He was the physician you would want to be on call in the emergency room when you had a need,” Harry Jasper, CEO of Southern Humboldt Community Health Care District, said.

Doctor Pleatman worked one week of every month for five years at the hospital, during which he was the lead emergency room physician, the medical director and eventually the hospital chief of staff.

“Many have been talking about his very personable since of humor, his commitment and caring nature that was always present, he was really rare in rural medicine where we rely on physicians that come from outside of the area to cover our emergency rooms,” Jasper added.

But nothing could prepare them for the news Friday morning of a small plane crash into the South Fork of the Eel River not far from the Garberville airport.

“Initially when we heard that a plane had crashed, we were all like, oh no. That's going to be terrible. And then it sunk in to me like oh, it's Friday. Oh, this is about the time Doctor Pleatmen arrives,” La Rue said.

Colleagues of the doctor say was making his usual commute by plane to the Jerald Phelps Community Hospital for a weeklong shift over this holiday week when the tragic plane crash took his life. 

“For me, I was just more or less just shocked. It took a while to set in,” La Rue reflected.

As the days go by, reality will set in that the doctor will never be back for his shift in this emergency room…and nothing makes that reality easy.

“The realization of how short and fragile life is, is never more clear than here in the ER. But it’s still just so different when it's someone that you're used to relying on and seeing,” La Rue said.

The one small consolation: he was a flying fanatic, passionate about planes and being a pilot.

“He went out doing something he loved,” Simone said.