Friends say William Lee Phillips was the kind of hard working man you wanted by your side when something needed to get done.
He possessed a solid work ethic and showed a lot of pride in his work. Those qualities endeared him to neighbor Mark Ragsdale.
"He just worked his rear off seven days a week," Ragsdale said Saturday afternoon. "Just the best neighbor you could possibly have, period."
Ragsdale and other friends and family of Phillips are in mourning after he died just before noon when the small plane he was piloting went down near Blackwater Creek Airport in Plant City.
"He had made two approaches to the landing strip, circled around and on his third approach for some unknown reason came down flat on the bottom of the plane," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon. "He hit the ground extremely hard slid about 50 yards through the grass and died inside the wreckage."
The Lakeland businessman was the only one on board the single seat Challenger Aircraft. Ragsdale knew Phillips for nearly 20 years and was terribly saddened when he got the news.
"There's nothing bad at all you can say about the man, he'd do anything in the world for you," Ragsdale recalled.
For years Phillips owned Phillips Bait and Tackle on U.S. 92 in Lakeland near Saddle Creek Park.
Ragsdale says that was how Phillips earned a living, but his passion was flying.
"He [got up there] like every weekend," Ragsdale said. "That [flying] is just something that he loved to do."
At this point it's not clear what caused the crash but Phillips family says he went out a way he would have preferred. He died two days before his 80th birthday.
Ragsdale: "Mrs. [Julia, his wife] Phillips made a statement to me that if he did have to go that's the best way because that was what he truly loved doing."
The Federal Aviation Administration will be in Plant City over the next several days to assist in the investigation.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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