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Bay Area Crash Victims Remembered by Friends

Torri Minton, Chronicle Staff Writer
  Thursday, November 4, 1999
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More than 100 mourners gathered in a candle-lit garden on the Peninsula on Tuesday night, trying to accept the unacceptable.

In the catastrophic and still unexplained crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, they had suddenly lost eight people three friends, three of their friends' parents, a sister and her husband.

Silicon Valley executive Kurt Schwenk, 39, of San Jose, was flying to Egypt with his girlfriend, software executive Paula Barnes who, at 38, had made enough money in stock options to retire from Aspect Development late last year.

Barnes had brought along her roommate, Gavin Stearns, 40, who also worked in software.

``It's hard,'' said another roommate, Laura Barnes (no relation). ``Because I keep wanting to talk to Paula about how much I miss Gavin, and I keep wanting to talk to Kurt about how much I miss Paula. But it's all three of them. We don't even have the other two to help us comfort each other.''

The trio were so sociable, she said, that they had, literally, more than 300 friends.

Some of them spent part of yesterday recalling the dinners Stearns and Barnes loved to throw at Barnes' Los Altos home, easily worth more than $1 million, with French doors, a three- car garage and a gorgeously landscaped garden.

It was a gathering place where the doors were always open and the television was never on, because, friends said, they loved to just talk. ``They had a real zest. They didn't hold back,'' said friend Russ Aagaard.

Laura Barnes said they were the kind of people who'd invite you to dinner and take you in as friends, forever.

``Gavin would invite you to go sailing. Paula would invite you to go to this dinner party. And pretty soon you were sucked in,'' Laura Barnes said. ``They were contagious, in their energy, laughter and sense of adventure.''

Paula Barnes and Schwenk introduced Laura Barnes and her boyfriend, Eric Hilgeman, 34, on a sailing trip to the Caribbean. ``They were betting on whether we had kissed or not,'' Laura Barnes said.

She and Hilgeman considered joining them on the trip to Egypt, but they decided not to because they had taken the exact same trip a few years ago.

``They always, on every trip, invited everybody,'' she said.``They were in love, and they had a lot of fun together.''

The catastrophe also killed Paula Barnes' parents, William and Tasmin Barnes, of Colorado; Kurt Schwenk's mother, Erica Taube Schwenk, 70, of Hilton, N.Y.; one of Kurt Schwenk's two sisters, Mitzi F. Schwenk, 48, of New Jersey; and her husband, William Jackson Sr., 61.

Kurt Schwenk was director of business development at Palm Computing in Santa Clara, which manufactures the popular Palm Pilot handheld computer. Seeking privacy, his surviving family members have declined to talk to the press.


 

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2000 San Francisco Chronicle