GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Two aircraft crashed Wednesday after colliding mid-air not far from a private airstrip south of Green Cove Springs, killing one pilot and injuring a second, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Sgt. Dylan Bryan said one of the pilots died and the second was seriously injured when both crashed near the Clay County Fairgrounds.
A National Transportation Safety Board team from Orlando took over the investigation Thursday and will determine what caused the planes to collide.
Troopers said Wednesday that the collision happened sometime after takeoff from Haller Airpark off U.S. 17. One plane crashed in an open field and that pilot, David Dollarhide of Green Cove Springs, was hospitalized.
The second plane crashed into trees not far away. That pilot, 74-year-old Robert Woolley, also of Green Cove Springs, was killed.
"Dollarhide has been transported to Orange Park Medical Center where he has non-life-threatening injuries and he’s surrounded by his family," Bryan said.
Joe Tierney, a pilot, lives in the Haller Airpark. He said Woolley was a retired Air Force fighter pilot who instructed many pilots at the airpark. He said Woolley was very by the book when it came to flying.
"One of the most safety conscious guys I've ever met," Tierney said. "They're icons of our community. Both have been here for many years. They're mentors to a lot of us in the airpark, so it's a devastating loss."
News4Jax spoke to Dollarhide back in 2005 at Haller Airpark, where he and fellow pilots shared their passion for flying.
Dollarhide is a retired Navy pilot who flew in combat with the late Sen. John McCain. Dollarhide flew combat missions in Vietnam off the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier.
The NTSB identified both aircraft as Vans RV-4s. They are light homebuilt aircraft that seat two.
The FHP said Dollarhide called someone on the ground to say he'd collided with another plane and crash landed. It took authorities some time to find the second crash scene.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission assisted in searching for the aircraft.
News4Jax was told the pilots knew either other. A pilot acquainted with both men said that the two often flew together, sometimes in formation.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal panel that routinely investigates incidents involving planes and trains, has a crew headed up from Orlando to investigate.