OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) – Jerel Zarestky was on his way back home when his plane crashed in northern Alabama on Wednesday.
Two of his daughters, Caitlin Sale and Jill Zaretsky, said their father took a solo trip in his two-seat private plane to visit family and friends across the country.
“His love of flying was only second to the love of his family. Family came first,” Sale said.
Sale said that one reason for the trip was so her father could meet his 3-month-old grandson in Colorado for the first time.
Jill Zaretsky said her father and mother had been married for nearly 50 years. They would’ve celebrated their 50th anniversary in May 2021.
Jerel Zarestky lived in Oak Ridge with his wife. His daughters said he was very hardworking, loving and funny.
“He’s been a really active member of the Oak Ridge pickleball group, and he’s kind of known as a jokester there. We know him as the purveyor of great dad jokes. If there’s a bad pun, he’s going to find it,” Sale said.
His daughters said he was very meticulous and never did anything halfway. Even with pickleball, Jill Zarestky said, he might have been slow, but he knew how to hit the ball in such a precise manner.
It was the same for cooking, playing cards and pretty much everything in his life.
“He took a lot of pride in everything that he did, from working as a physicist at the (Oak Ridge) National Lab, to helping us with projects around the house on this last trip he came to visit us,” Sale said.
They said if there was ever a simple way to do something, he would do the opposite. Despite that though, Jill Zarestky said he was an easy person to be around.
“He wasn’t demanding, didn’t expect a lot of others. He showed up and he did what needed to be done. He took you as you are and it didn’t need to be a production,” Jill Zarestky said.
He started working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1979 as an experimental physicist, and retired within the last 10 years. Ever since he retired though, his daughters said he was able to become more active and follow his dreams of flying.
He started off flying small model planes, but once he retired, he got his pilots license and bought a plane.
“There was never a free moment where he wasn’t down at his hanger helping somebody with their airplane or offering to take somebody up for a ride,” Sale said.
The daughters said his hanger in Oak Ridge was decked out with special lounge chairs, a popcorn maker and even an ice cream maker. Sale said her father loved flying the most when he could share that time with his family.
“Being out there, you could tell it was good for his soul. But when we got to share that with you, it just, like he almost got giddy like a little kid,” Sale said.
His meticulousness played a role in his flying as well. The daughters said that’s one reason why they couldn’t believe their father was gone.
Sale said if there was anyone she wholeheartedly trusted flying a plane, it was her dad.
“We don’t have any closure on what happened….he’s so meticulous. He’s so regimented and checking and double-checking, triple-checking everything. What could’ve happened,” Sale asked.
Jill Zaretsky said her father often flew his planes by himself. Their mother is afraid of heights and gets a little motion sickness. She said her mom thoroughly enjoyed hanging out at his hanger, waiting for him to fly back.
For his last trip, their mom flew to Colorado on a commercial flight and originally planned on staying with Sale for a couple of weeks, while Jerel Zareskty flew to see more family and friends.
“He flew from Tennessee to Iowa and visited his brother and some of our other family, and then he came to Colorado and visited us. He was here for about a week. And then he was making his way back to Tennessee slowly. He visited a friend in New Mexico and then a friend in Texas,” Jill Zarestky said.
His daughters said they have so many questions about his accident that they want answered. All they know right now is that he was taken too soon.
“I’m going to miss calling him when something good happens,” Jill Zarestky said.
“He’s my dad. When something goes wrong, I go to him,” Sale said.
The family wanted to thank everyone who helped find Jerel Zaretsky and who have supported them since the crash.
“Family would like to thank Oak Ridge Fire and Police departments for their professionalism, support and love; Alabama search and rescue teams for their diligent efforts, and friends and family for the outpouring of support.”
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