Steve Lotti, served PC/Bolivia PCV 2003-2005.
UGA Grad, Mom Victims of Peru Crash
By Merritt Melancon,
A 1998 graduate of the University of Georgia anthropology department who had recently moved back to Athens was among the 33 passengers killed when TANS Peru Flight 204 made an emergency landing in a Peruvian jungle Tuesday afternoon
Steve Lotti, 28, a professional archaeologist and Peace Corps volunteer originally from Fayetteville, and his mother, Sherra Young, 58, also from Fayetteville, were killed Tuesday when the plane they were on crash-landed in a jungle marsh and splintered apart on the domestic flight from Lima to the Amazon city of Pucallpa. Fifty-eight passengers survived, pulling themselves out of the wrecked aircraft and wading through knee-deep mud in a hailstorm.
Lotti recently ended a two-year stint with the Peace Corps after helping build wells and sanitary sewer systems in small villages in Bolivia, and had recently returned to Athens, said Katharine Hughes, a high school friend who lives in Athens.
Lotti was traveling in South America with his mother showing her the places he had worked while in the Peace Corps.
"He wanted to show his mom all that he'd accomplished," Hughes said.
They had been in the South American country for two weeks, touring areas where Lotti had helped build wells.
"We were all so excited for the both of them," said Lotti's sister-in-law, Catherine Lotti. "We said, 'Go, go explore the world.' And who better to do it with than a son who could be her personal tour guide?"
Young was celebrating her recent retirement from 32 years of teaching in the Clayton County school system.
The pair was scheduled to return to Georgia on Saturday after a trip to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Faculty members and friends at UGA's anthropology department were shocked when they learned that Lotti and Young were killed in the crash.
Lotti was an outgoing, straight-A student who loved life and would help anybody, said Mark Williams, a professor who worked with Lotti for four years in UGA's Georgia Archaeological Site File, a library containing information on all the discovered, archaeologically significant sites in Georgia.
"This is a guy who was just so bright, well-rounded and who was always trying to help people and was just so full of love for life," Williams said. "It makes you want to ask, 'Why is it always these great guys?' Steve was just an absolutely great person."
Before joining the Peace Corps in 2003, Lotti worked with Brockington and Associates, an archaeological and historical research firm based in Atlanta.
Lotti's two years in Bolivia during his stint with the Peace Corps weren't the first time he had traveled abroad to help those in need, said Paul Brockington, the firm's owner. He had also spent time on projects in Africa and was involved with Habitat for Humanity.
Even while living in Bolivia, Lotti made time to visit with his friends on his short trips back to the States, he added.
"He kept up with his friendships," Brockington said. "He was just the finest guy."
While at UGA, Lotti maintained a 4.0 grade point average, worked cataloging Georgia's archaeological sites and even conducted an independent research project, an archaeological survey of Greene County, while he was an undergraduate.
"Also, when he was in town as a student he would sometimes enter into those amateur boxing matches they used to hold downtown," joked Williams. "I have a picture of that, somewhere."
TANS Peru said wind shear Tuesday afternoon may have forced the pilot's emergency landing, which killed four crew members and at least 33 passengers, making August the deadliest month for world airline disasters in three years.
The Boeing 737-200 was carrying 98 people, including six crew members, on a domestic flight from the Peruvian capital of Lima to the Amazon city of Pucallpa, company spokesman Jorge Belevan said Wednesday.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.