Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ogden, Utah: Company can scatter cremains from the air

Russell Whetton remembers vividly the first time someone asked him to scatter a loved one’s ashes from an airplane.  

It was 1955, he was working for a funeral home in San Diego, and he had his pilot’s license. He had rented a plane to scatter the remains out over the ocean.

“I didn’t think about the negative pressure in the cockpit,” he chuckles. “I opened the door to scatter it, and the cremated dust came back in on me in a cloud. I couldn’t see anything in the cockpit.”

Whetton can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time. “It took me a vacuum, and about two hours, to get it all out of the rented airplane,” he said.

So, did Whetton ever let the family know their loved one had been briefly interred in a Hoover?

“Oh, no,” he says. “And after that, I think I just took the ashes out and scattered them by hand off Coronado.”

Over the years, Whetton did hundreds of airborne scatterings there in San Diego before leaving the funeral business in 1976 to become a chiropractor.

Today, at 83, Whetton runs the Whetton Chiropractic Center in downtown Ogden. But he insists he has dearly missed the mortuary business, and if he had the backing, he’d open his own funeral home; he even went so far as to buy a funeral coach three or four months ago.

Then, Whetton got an admittedly “wild idea.” He and his wife, Helyn, recently decided to open Four Winds Scattering Service, running it out of their hangar at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport.

Whetton will fly your loved one’s cremains in his 1957 Piper Tri-Pacer airplane and disperse them, at altitude, in a pre-arranged spot — such as up in the mountains, or out over Great Salt Lake.

The service starts at $300 within a 30-mile radius; the price goes up the farther it is from Ogden. You can even have the event recorded and put on a DVD, and the Whettons have talked about adding other memorial-type services to their business.

They’ve advertised in the Standard-Examiner, but thus far haven’t had any takers.

“We’ve practiced with wood ash so far,” said Helyn Whetton. “The business hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet.”

However, the Whettons think scattering remains only makes sense. Sometimes, a generation or two after someone is cremated, the family doesn’t know what to do, and “Grandma ends up in a closet — or the dump,” Russel Whetton said.

“If they’re on the mantel getting dusty, why not scatter their ashes someplace they loved?”

Having learned his lesson about releasing remains from inside an aircraft cabin, Russell Whetton built a device for scattering the remains.

It’s basically a tube that attaches to the struts on one wing, with valves on each end that are attached to cables running inside the aircraft. To release the ashes, the pilot pulls first on one cable, and then the other, to open the valves.

It’s all perfectly legal, he said, and the cremated remains contain no pathogens.

“They’re completely sterile; there’s no harm to the environment,” he said.

Whetton said the remains can be scattered over public lands, and even private property with permission from the owner. There’s even a form to fill out if you’d like them scattered over a national park.

The only other requirement, because it’s a for-profit business, is that it requires a pilot with a commercial license. For that, Whetton’s friend Wayne Law will be lending his support. He’s a commercial pilot, flight instructor and aircraft mechanic.

Law has never done anything like this before but says working with cremated remains won’t bother him one bit.

“I think it’ll be great. Although I don’t know how well it will go over in Utah.”

Whetton’s new business combines two of his loves — flying and assisting those who are saying goodbye to loved ones. His love of flying started at an early age; he later learned to fly in the military.

“When I was 4 or 5, we’d go to the market and get those wooden orange crates,” he said. “We’d take those crates and make airplanes. I flew them all over the world.”

And as for the mortuary business? Whetton sees it as an extremely important service to others.

“I love being able to help people at these most difficult times in their lives.”

Four Winds Scattering Service can be reached at 801-920-2030.

Story and Video:

Article and Photo Gallery: