Tania Hurd Mourners stop to pay their respects to Tania Hurd at Burroughs High School Tuesday. Hurd, a culinary arts teacher at the school, died in a helicopter crash on Santa Catalina Island on Saturday. (Alex Collins/The Leader)
By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 28, 2008 - Culinary arts teacher Tania Hurd chaperoned the senior prom Friday night, dancing with students at Universal Studios' Globe Theatre and posing for pictures in a long black gown. Less than 24 hours later, those same students would be creating a memorial of notes, flowers and candles for her outside John Burroughs High School in Burbank.
"I can't believe this. I wish it was all a bad dream. You were the best teacher ever," wrote one student, who did not leave a name. "Thanks to you I made it out of high school. You were more than just a teacher; you were a friend like a mom."
The vivacious 46-year-old teacher was one of three people killed Saturday in a helicopter crash on Santa Catalina Island. Her family spent many weekends moored at Two Harbors, typically traveling on their sailboat, the Sabrosa. Hurd sometimes got seasick, so when the opportunity arose to travel by helicopter instead, she jumped at the chance, said Dena Williams, an art and parenting teacher at Burroughs who was a close friend.
"She had always wanted to go on a helicopter ride," Williams said. "She was so excited."
Hurd had worked at the school since 2003, drawn to teaching teens how to cook because she worried that today's youth were exposed to too much junk food and microwaved meals, and that families no longer sat together around the dinner table, said her father, Charlie Hurd of Fallbrook.
She restarted the culinary arts program at the school, and administrators figured there might be enough interest to fill three classes. The class grew so popular that Hurd taught six sections, and enrollment had to be restricted to juniors and seniors.
"You just felt her smile, her demeanor; you felt just charged," Principal Emilio Urioste said. "She made her students all feel like, 'I'm learning something. I have something to contribute. I can do this.' Even a klutz like me, she would make you feel like you could be the Galloping Gourmet."
Anthony Doto, 18, said he took Hurd's class because he figured it would be an easy elective. But he became enthralled by the international cuisine she taught her students, as well as by Hurd, from whom Doto would seek advice about girls or problems with his parents.
"Honestly, she's one of the most caring women I've ever met," said Doto, a senior. "I told her she was like a second mom."
Hurd's classroom remained closed Tuesday -- her colleagues reluctant to open the door. Instead, her classes met in the library, where students quietly remembered her. Some met with grief counselors. Others wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk outside her classroom or added to the growing memorial at the school's entrance.
On a red graduation cap, one student wrote, "Ms. Hurd, we miss you! I owe this cap to you and much more."
Burroughs graduate Mike Allen left a large silver medallion from the California School of Culinary Arts. "You are the reason I earned this. You deserve this more than me. Thanx for being an inspirational teacher," he wrote.
Hurd is survived by two children, one a son who is a freshman at Burroughs; her partner of nearly two decades, Wayne Noecker; Noecker's four older children; her parents; and three siblings. A memorial service is tentatively planned for Friday, and the school will honor her at a later date.
TEACHER AMONG DEAD IN CRASH
Tania Hurd, who taught culinary arts at Burroughs High, is one of 3 killed when helicopter flight over Catalina goes down.
By Alison Tully | BUrbank Leader
May 28, 2008 — BURBANK — Students and faculty members at John Burroughs High School are mourning the loss of culinary arts teacher Tania Hurd, 46, who was one of three passengers killed Saturday on a tourist helicopter that crashed on Santa Catalina Island.
The Eurocopter AS 350 Island Express helicopter carrying six passengers crashed at 9:30 a.m. Saturday near Two Harbors on the northwest end of the island, said Terry Williams, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Hurd and two others were killed, and three passengers, including Hurd’s stepson, C.J. Noecker, were critically injured and are being treated at local hospitals.
All of the wreckage has been recovered, and investigators are trying to determine the cause, Williams said.
Hurd, who boarded the plane in Long Beach less than an hour before it crashed, was on her way to meet family members who had arrived on the island the previous evening.
“She was very excited about the helicopter ride,” Principal Emilio Urioste said as he stood in front of candles, cards and pictures of Hurd on the school’s front steps Tuesday. “She had never ridden in one before.”
Her son, Max, 14, and her boyfriend were on the ground when the crash occurred and rushed to help, Urioste said.
Hurd, who came to the school five years ago to restart the culinary program, had spent the previous night chaperoning the prom with best friend and fellow teacher Dena Williams. Williams, who will be teaching Hurd’s classes for the next two weeks, gathered students Tuesday morning to share memories.
“If she knew she was going to go the next morning, she still would have come to the prom,” Williams said. “She would have wanted to surround herself with the people she loved, and that was her students.”
Students wore purple and green, Hurd’s favorite colors, in her honor.
“She was always so happy and vibrant, she wouldn’t have wanted the students to wear black,” Williams said. “She would want them to celebrate the good times.”
Staff members gathered to discuss ways to help students cope. A team of psychologists and counselors were also brought in to offer services.
This year’s graduation ceremony will now include the song “Unforgettable,” by Natalie Cole, Hurd’s favorite song, Urioste said. Students and faculty are also planning to compile a book that will offer remembrances of Hurd for her family.
For student Anthony Doto, 18, Hurd was not just a teacher but a second mom.
“She was always there to listen,” he said. “I told her every morning that I loved her. She was the mother I never had and one of the most amazing women I have ever met.”