They were salesmen, marathon runners and business travelers who set their alarm clocks to go off before dawn so they could sleep in their own beds one more night before heading out for the road.

Some were finishing their careers, and some were just beginning: The pilot, Capt. Katie Leslie, was 26, and First Officer Jonathan Gibbs was 28.

Among the 21 who died in yesterday's commuter plane crash in Charlotte were three executives from W. R. Grace & Co., a specialty chemicals company with headquarters in Columbia. Richard Lyons, 56, Joseph M. Spiak, 46, and Paul Stidham, 46, were on their way to check a mining plant in Enoree, S.C. Combined, the three men had 56 years of service with Grace.

Spiak was a father of two teenagers and lived in the Boston suburb of Acton, Mass. He and his wife were training together for an upcoming marathon. "He had a great sense of humor, like a Dilbert thing," said his sister-in-law, Barbara Langston. "He saw the funny things in life."

Paul Stidham was the newest Grace hire, in charge of environmental health and safety for the corporate headquarters. Just before Christmas, Stidham, his wife and two daughters -- ages 6 and 12 -- had settled into their new home in Howard County. Trying to improve his golf game, a relatively new passion, Stidham watched infomercials. "He worried about his swing," said William Corcoran, Grace's vice president of public and regulatory affairs.

Also on the plane was Steven J. Krassas of Richmond, a senior consultant with the e-business division of Fannie Mae. Krassas often took the 45-minute hop from Charlotte to Greenville to call on banking clients. He cherished homecomings, and returning to the house in Richmond that he and his wife had just finished renovating and that they shared with their large, white dog named Cotton.

"He was the most vivid, fantastic person in the world," said family friend Mary Schwab. "The worst part of this is that he and his wife were soul mates."

Benjamin Ralph Sylvia was 62 and had a 12 handicap on the rolling golf courses around his home in Ashland, Va. But Sylvia, a former employee with Niagara Mohawk power company in New York, couldn't stay retired. He dabbled as a consultant for nuclear operations, which is why he was on a plane in Charlotte yesterday. "He loved his business, his family and his home life,' " said son Dan Robertson.

Michael Sullivan of the Philadelphia suburb of Newtown Square was a vice president of sales for Cape Software, and a regular fixture on the streets of his neighborhood. He often carried his 18-month-old son in a backpack while he pushed his 3-year-old daughter on a bike.

"My husband was everything for the kids," said Sullivan's wife, Donna. "They knew him at play group. They knew him at the library." Last weekend, the weather was bitter cold, and Sullivan took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese -- not once, but twice.

Staff writer Sabrina Jones contributed to this report.