In 1998, Larry Menestrina was working as an aircraft certification engineer for Cessna when a group of Russian engineers visited Wichita for training.
Menestrina and the Russians became friends over the visitors’ six-week stay. So much so that one of them told Menestrina, who was single at the time, “You’re a good man. You need a Russian woman.”
That was Halloween night.
Two years later, Menestrina’s new Russian friends provided the name and contact information for Nataliya Goynik, who lived in the Ukraine.
Letters followed. Weekly phone calls on Saturdays became a highlight. Their first meeting took place in Warsaw, Poland.
“I knew I never wanted to be without her again,” Menestrina said Friday.
Nataliya Goynik came to Wichita in 2001, and the two were later married.
Thursday, Nataliya Menestrina, 48, was one of four people killed when a small aircraft crashed into the building at Mid-Continent Airport where she was working.
She was working as a Russian translator for FlightSafety International, a company that has five aviation training centers in Wichita.
Nataliya was in a flight simulator for a Cessna 208 Caravan at a FlightSafety building with two pilots when the aircraft struck the building near the simulator, Menestrina said.
The two pilots in the simulator, including one Russian, also were killed, Menestrina said authorities told him.
The names of the four people killed aren’t expected to be released officially for several days, authorities said.
Family and friends have identified Mark Goldstein, 53, as the pilot of the aircraft who was killed.
Menestrina, an aircraft certification engineer for Textron, at first thought his wife was working in a different FlightSafety building. He quickly learned otherwise.
“She was the best part of me,” he said. “She meant the world to me.”
And now that world has been ripped apart, for Menestrina and for the couple’s two daughters – Anastasiya, 23, and Juliana, 10.
Anastasiya was Nataliya’s daughter from a previous marriage and came to this country as a 10-year-old. A graduate of Bishop Carroll High School and Pittsburg State University, she works as a nurse at a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Juliana is a fifth-grader at St. Jude Catholic School.
Since coming to the United States in 2001, Nataliya worked as a translator for FlightSafety and preparing income taxes. She also frequently spoke at schools about what life was like in the former Soviet Union, Menestrina said.
“She was very much a people person,” he said.
And she loved animals. She fed strays and even named the neighborhood’s four little possums, Menestrina said.
He recalled their early courtship as they exchanged letters and talked by phone.
After he arranged to fly Nataliya to Warsaw, they met for the first time at the airport.
“Aug. 15, 2001,” he said.
She was wearing a shirt with a large Tweety Bird on it that he had sent her. He handed her a bouquet of flowers.
She came to the United States a few months later on a fiancee visa, Menestrina said.
“She was my soul mate,” he said. “I am devastated.”