Patients and colleagues mourn physician killed in Flying Samaritan's plane crash

Colleagues and patients of Dr. Graciela Sarmiento — who died in a plane crash in Mexico on Friday while on a medical aid mission — remembered the South County physician Monday as a dedicated volunteer who loved helping people.

The Peruvian-born Sarmiento was one of four people killed when the small plane taking them to a coastal town in Baja California crashed south of Ensenada.

Pilot Roger Lyon of Cayucos, Dr. James Thornton of Arroyo Grande and Cal Poly student and paramedic Andrew Thiel also died.

Sarmiento, who lived in Arroyo Grande, practiced for five years at the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast office in Oceano and at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital.

She and the other medical volunteers were on a humanitarian mission with the Flying Samaritans aid organization.

Sarmiento is survived by husband Jocelyn Jodar, 54, and three children, Sebastian, 13, Sayoa, 16, and Maia, 18.

“When I heard the news I just screamed, “No, no, no,’ ” said Rachel Shoemaker, a former patient of Sarmiento. “She was the doctor you want to have.

“She really loved being of service to everyone, regardless of whether they had money or not,” Shoemaker added. “It’s just so tragic. She was the most fabulous woman. She was the best doctor. She was really a gift.”

Sarmiento had a passion for providing medical services to patients who needed them most but couldn’t afford treatment. She worked daily with the poor, uninsured and homeless at CHC’s Oceano clinic.

Before establishing her practice in Oceano, Sarmiento worked at the Coastal Medical Center in Arroyo Grande.

“People had really come to rely on her,” CHC spokesman Steve Smith said.

“She was such a high-caliber person. She had a wonderful spirit, and people were drawn to her. She had a very calming presence.”

Sarmiento was also a member of the Community Board at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital and was known for often volunteering her time for community programs and Arroyo Grande High School’s athletic program, hospital President Rick Castro said.