Veteran pilot killed in plane crash day before his 73rd birthday

Friends: Tim O'Laughlin served in Navy, flew for commercial airlines

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - A pilot who was killed in a Thursday evening plane crash that knocked out power to parts of Clay County would have turned 73 Friday.

While investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Florida Highway Patrol have not identified the pilot, friends told News4Jax his name was Tim O'Laughlin. He was the only person in the two-seat plane at the time. 

State troopers said the single-engine plane took off from Haller Airpark in Green Cove Springs about 5:15 p.m. Thursday and crashed miles away in the woods off County Road 218 in Middleburg.

Close friends described O'Laughlin as a well-liked and experienced pilot who was respected in the community. He learned to fly in the Navy and then flew commercially for various airline companies, including Northwest Airlines and Delta, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

He served in the Navy as an aviator from 1968 to 1997, retiring as a captain. 

"He had a great sense of humor and lots of skills," said Pat Lee, a fellow pilot and friend from Haller Airpark.

Lee said O'Laughlin loved his family and aviation. He frequently flew with a group of Clay County pilots.

"Tim was one of our wingmen, and a really good friend and a great loss," Lee said. "He was a really great neighbor. He was a great pilot and it's shocking to all of us because we have no idea."

State troopers and the NTSB are investigating the cause of the fiery crash. The investigation could take a year. A wrecker removed the plane Friday and took it to a storage facility. A medical examiner would make positive identification of the body, according to FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan.

There were no witnesses apparently, so no one reported the plane crash at the time. However, it took down power lines in a field off C.R. 218 and that knocked out electricity for a lot of people in the area. When utility crews with Clay Electric came to find out why, they made the discovery.

The military veteran leaves behind a wife and a son, as well as many friends, who are now left wondering why this happened.

"As far as I know he was in great health," Lee noted. "Tim took really good care of his airplane. It was a beautiful airplane."

He flew a homebuilt single-engine, 2-seater RV-4 plane. Lee said O'Laughlin did not build the aircraft, but maintained it meticulously. He was also an avid camper with his motor home.  

"Every day you try to minimize the risks," Lee remarked. "It's what we've been doing all our lives. We're not daredevils. We're not test pilots. We fly really safe procedures and airplanes."

Friends said O'Laughlin spent his free time doing flyovers and memorials for veterans and pilots who passed away. It's now time for his fellow airmen to remember him.

Friends and fellow pilots said they are planning a memorial service and flyover in his honor. They have not yet set a date because they want to make sure it works for his family members. 

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