While search teams returned to the site of Friday's fatal helicopter crash off Apollo Beach, friends and neighbors of the deceased pilot showed up at his family's Davis Island home to offer their condolences.
A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office report issued early Saturday identified him as 60-year-old John Lawrence Ward.
"Just a great fun guy with an adventurous spirit," said longtime friend Ronny Elliott.
Those who knew him best say Ward's flying was both a passion and a career. The Tampa man once worked as a commercial pilot for American Airlines but in recent years choppers became his aircraft of choice.
Just after 3 p.m. Friday while Ward was buzzing along the west coast in his Robinson R-22 something went terribly wrong. Witnesses describe a scene where the chopper's main rotor blade appeared to go flying off just before it plunged into Tampa Bay.
Darkness kept crews from finding Ward's body on Friday. It was recovered shortly after the sun came up Saturday.
"He was a careful and fastidious individual," Elliott explained. "He was not someone who took chances."
Cathy Buckhorn and her husband – Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn - have lived near in the same neighborhood as the Wards for a decade. She says the Wards both enjoyed helping other people, especially around the holidays.
"[They] were kind enough to be a Santa Stop here now for last several years even though they don't have kids themselves they give to those in need," Cathy Buckhorn said.
The official cause of the crash is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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