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Memorial held for fallen pilot who saved 2

Jim Townsend crashed in Everglades 2 weeks ago

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of people are saying their final goodbyes to a local pilot who lost his life after crash landing near the Everglades two weeks ago.

Jim Townsend, 63, and his two passengers were in a twin-engine airplane operated by Spohrer & Dodd Aviation LLC.

Townsend survived the crash and saved the lives of his two passengers, Robert Spohrer and Steve Brown, but days later crash he passed away from his injuries in the hospital.

The memorial for Townsend wrapped up Thursday afternoon at the Jacksonville Executive at Craig Municipal Airport and his widow, Judith Miller said what she was really hoping from the memorial was a lot of storytelling and that's exactly what happened.

Dozens of fellow pilots, friends and family members came out to show their respect. Many sharing just how much of a funny and giving person Townsend was.

He was an instructor for many years and spread his wealth of knowledge to those hoping to one day earn their wings. There was a story about how he was known to stop traffic just to save a family of turtles crossing the road.
 

Wife remembers life, love of fallen pilot

Judith Miller spoke Wednesday about how she learned of the death of her husband, his sense of humor and how he always put others first. 

Robert Spohrer and Steve Browning
Robert Spohrer and Steve Browning

"I didn't even turn on the news. It was just a couple of minutes before the news and there was a knock on the door and there was a woman out there from the firm and I knew just by looking at her face that something had gone wrong," Miller said.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board released Tuesday stated Townsend, who flew out of Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport, could not find Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. He told air traffic control that he may have to land on the highway.

"I would say, ‘Why aren't you smiling?' And he'd say, ‘That's the face God gave me!'" Miller said. "That was his look! That was his signature look."

Miller describes herself as a very private person but said she wanted to open up her home and her heart to show others how much her husband meant to her and so many others.

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She said she met Townsend through a newspaper personal ad and from there the rest was history.

"I was looking at the personals and there was this an innocuous little ad in there, my age, pilot and looking for someone to spend time with, so I answered," Miller said.

Miller described it as the best $3.99 she's ever spent. A newspaper from the '90s that would lead to nearly two decades of happiness.

"After about a month I said, ‘Well, OK, you can come over I guess. He showed up at the door and I looked at him and I said, "You look OK, you can come in. We would have been married for 19 years this February," Miller said.

She said that her husband had the ability to always put the safety of others first, and that is exactly what drew the two together 19 years ago.

"He loved life. He'd get up in such a good mood and I'd say, ‘Why in the world are you in such a good mood. And he would say, ‘Because I live with a goddess,'" Miller said.

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Miller said that aside from being a family man, Townsend was a lover of nature and adventure. He was a member of the Air Force and the community's renaissance man who was always up for a challenge, and ready to make people laugh.

"It wasn't just about the planes. It was about if you got stuck on the side of the road he would stop to help you, you know? Never take any money for it and never wanted anything for it, just wanted to do the right thing for people," Miller said.

"I'm going to miss him so much. He was such a presence and he was just so funny. He was so funny. He loves to tell stories so that's what we're hoping for tomorrow at the memorial. That people will get up and tell stories and laugh because he made me, he irritated me so bad, but he made me laugh!" Miller said.