Embry-Riddle Graduate and Wife Killed in Colorado Plane Crash Just Days After They Married

Nov. 16, 2020

Their lives were soaring.

Costas John Sivyllis was only 30, but he was already a respected pilot for United Airlines, a first officer flying Boeing 757/767 airliners. He was well-known and a respected graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

And Lindsey Vogelaar, 33, had earned a master’s degree in international education before becoming a flight attendant for United.

Then they met and became a couple. The two eloped in Sivyllis’ single-engine private plane nicknamed “Baby Blue,” flying to Colorado to get married in October and then honeymoon amid the Rocky Mountains.

On Oct. 5, four days after getting married, the newlyweds climbed aboard the blue-and-white plane at Telluride Regional Airport to begin their trip home to the Spruce Creek Fly-In near Port Orange.

But shortly after take off, tragedy struck. The small plane crashed in the rugged San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. Sivyllis and Vogelaar were both killed.

The couple's death has shocked and saddened Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Even after graduating in 2012, Sivyllis had remained very active at ERAU. He would sometimes go to campus in his United Airlines uniform to mentor student aviators about a career in the sky.

A 'Fallen Eagle'

The university mourned its “fallen eagle” at a memorial service last month. ERAU President P. Barry Butler said Sivyllis was in the stratosphere as far as his participation and dedication to Embry-Riddle, according to a video of Butler’s remarks during the memorial service on YouTube, which was provided by the university.

“Clearly, when you think about being part of this institution and being passionate, he checked that box like you wouldn’t believe,” Butler said.

In recognition of that contribution, ERAU has established a memorial scholarship fund in Sivyllis’ name. The ERAU website said $42,500 had been donated to the fund which was 170% of the $25,000 goal of the campaign which ended Nov. 1.

An ERAU grad named Ryan McCormick also started an online petition asking the university to rename one of its new buildings in honor of Sivyllis. As of Thursday, 5,773 people had signed the petition, which has a goal of 7,500 signatures.

Everyone seems to agree that Sivyllis had the right stuff for flying an airplane and for success.

“He was a gifted pilot with an enormous work ethic, loads of charisma and a ton of intelligence,” Alan Stolzer, the dean of the ERAU College of Aviation, said in the video of the memorial. “He had it all. He loved the College of Aviation. He once told us that he couldn’t do enough for us given all that his professors, staff and flight instructors had done for him.”

Just three years after graduating with a major in aeronautical science and a minor in business, Sivyllis was invited in 2015 to join the College of Aviation Industry Advisory Board. Even at his young age, Sivyllis was already making an impact, the dean said.

“He added value, big time, numerous contributions, giving selflessly, talking to students about how to be successful in this industry,” Stolzer said.

Sivyllis was also praised by Marc Champion, the managing director of flight training at United Airlines. Champion said during the memorial service that he first met Sivyllis at a symposium in Orlando about eight years ago. Champion said he expected to find a seasoned pilot at the symposium and instead found the then 22-year-old Sivyllis, who at the time was a pilot for PSA Airlines, a regional carrier.

Sivyllis was “speaking passionately and eloquently about the importance of helping others and moving others closer to their dreams,” Champion said.

Champion remembered thinking then: “I want that guy flying for United Airlines: not just him, but I want about a thousand other people like him.”

Sivyllis was also chairman of the Education Committee at the Air Line Pilots Association.

Another one of Sivyllis' accomplishments was founding the ALPA ACE club or Air Line Pilots Association Aviation Collegiate Education club at ERAU, The club is sponsored by the association and brings pilots from the airline industry to talk to students about the profession. The club's slogan is "Cleared to Dream."

Since Sivyllis started the club, it has grown to chapters at other universities, said Sivyllis’ friend, Justin Solomon.

Solomon, 30, who also spoke at the service, said he met Sivyllis when they were both freshmen at ERAU and resided in nearby dorms.

Solomon said Sivyllis was like a brother, a best friend and a mentor. He said he knew Sivyllis was going places.

“You knew exactly what he wanted, and you knew he was the type of person to work as hard as he possibly could to get to his goals as fast as possible,” Solomon said in a phone interview.

He said that drive and determination helped Sivyllis get a job at United in 2015 at the age of 24.

“It was unheard of to be hired at his age at a major airline,” Solomon said. “He liked flying passengers. He liked all of the good things that airline travel does for the world, connecting people that live thousands of miles from each other."

Flying was not work for Sivyllis said Solomon, who is a pilot for Envoy Air, the largest regional carrier for American Airlines.

“It wasn’t a job for him. Just like it's not really for me. It’s something we do because we love doing it,” Solomon said.

'A light of joy'

In 2016, Sivyllis found another passion in his life: Lindsey Vogelaar. They met when he was a pilot and she was a flight attendant on a United Airlines flight from the United States to England.

“She was full of life,” Solomon said. “I’ve never seen Lindsey in a state of sadness. She was just always this beaming light of joy, and she brought out that happiness in everybody who was around her.”

Vogelaar had the flight number of the plane the pair met on engraved on the inside of his wedding band: UAL 27.

In February, Solomon, who lives in Boca Raton, said he got a surprising text from Sivyllis. He had bought an airplane, a Beechcraft Bonanza S35 V-tail. The plane, named " Baby Blue," was manufactured in 1964, according to FAA records.

The plane could hold enough people and luggage and was fast enough to make it practical for traveling, Solomon said.

“He used that airplane a lot for the amount of time that he had it,” Solomon said.

Sivyllis used the plane to fly his bride-to-be to Colorado. Both Sivyllis and Lindsey loved the state. She was born in Denver before her family moved to Michigan. He had visited the Rocky Mountains with his father and called the mountains home.

Sivyllis and Vogelaar took off from Spruce Creek Airport on the morning of Sept. 28 and arrived in Colorado the next day after stops along the way.

They were married in Telluride on Oct. 1 and enjoyed a honeymoon in the mountains. They hired Picturesque Photography for the elopement. Pictures show him in a light blue suit and her in a white bridal gown while she held a bouquet of flowers. They smiled with the mountains as a backdrop.

Some pictures show the couple next to Baby Blue. In one she is wearing her wedding dress sitting on the wing as he leans up against the plane next to her. In another they are inside the plane, the propeller is spinning and a handmade "Just Married" sign fills a back window for a flight they took before departing.

The San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado would later tweet that the couple had been posting online about their “small wedding and adventure-filled honeymoon” for friends and family to follow.

“They were so happy and so in love on that day, And so excited to be out here celebrating,” said Wren Fasanella-Tremaine, owner of Picturesque Photography. “I’ve been doing wedding photography for almost 10 years now, met many couples, but they were pretty special.”

A normal takeoff, a tragic end

Then on Oct. 5, it was time for the couple to fly home.

Before they left, Fasanella-Tremaine said they offered her and her fiance, Corey Duncan, who works with her as a second photographer, an airplane ride.

“We felt totally safe and had a great flight and landed and everything was fine and gave them big hugs,” Fasanella-Tremaine said. “And they were fueling up when we left."

Fifteen minutes before taking off, Sivyllis sent a text to his friends’ chat group saying he would update them with stories once he returned, Solomon said.

The plane took off from Telluride Regional Airport in the San Juan Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain range in southwestern Colorado.

Preliminary information showed that the plane took off normally and climbed to the west before turning to the east, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot did not make any radio distress calls as far as is known, according to the NTSB.

The plane crashed in rugged mountainous terrain at 1:04 p.m. about eight miles east of the airport, according to the NTSB. The airport's elevation was 9,069 feet while the crash site was at 11,823 feet. The land rose higher on the north, south and east around the crash site. The skies were clear and the visibility was 10 miles, according to the NTSB.

The aircraft appeared to have crashed into the ground nearly vertically with most of the front of the fuselage crushed and the leading edges of the wings showing impact damage, according to the NTSB.

The NTSB usually takes a year or two to complete an investigation and issue a report.

Solomon said he and two other friends, who were United pilots, flew to Denver to help escort the bodies back to Boston, where Sivyllis was born.

He said he doesn’t know what could have gone wrong leading to the crash.

During the memorial service, Sivyllis’ father, Dimitris Sivyllis, spoke about how his son visited Greece as a boy and his grandfather would take him to watch 747s taking off and landing at an airport in Athens.

The father also spoke about coaching his son in baseball when he was just 6-years-old. He said he would repeat to his son "a mantra" to “think of others.”

“I’ve always worried: Does he think of others?” the father said. “Has it taken? And the last two weeks I see that not only had it taken but it had flourished. It had grown. It had sprouted into a great big mighty tree. Wide, deep, so big I couldn’t even see it.”

He had some advice about how to remember his son.

“It’s a very simple thing. Just do what he did,” Dimitris Sivyllis said. “Love life, share the joy for life. Share the joy for aviation, share most of all what you can to help others do what they need to make their dreams come true.”

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This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Embry-Riddle graduate and wife killed in Colorado plane crash just days after they married


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