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4 from area die in plane

A skilled pilot, a Tampa businessman and two of his employees die in the crash in Tennessee.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, JEFF HARRINGTON and ALEX LEARY
Published December 12, 2003

photo
[AP photo]
Smoke pours from the wreckage of a twin-engine Cessna that crashed Thursday morning on a ridge about 2 miles north of the Greenville, Tenn., Muncipal Airport. Four Tampa Bay area people were killed.
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A twin-engine Cessna crashed in freezing temperatures in Tennessee Thursday, killing four people, including its highly lauded pilot and the founder of a family-run South Tampa benefits firm.

The plane, piloted by David Jochman of New Port Richey, crashed at 10:52 a.m. on approach to the Greeneville-Greene County Municipal Airport, tossing the co-pilot from its fuselage, local and federal authorities reported.

The four dead were identified as Jochman, 49, who recently was named a regional Flight Instructor of the Year for the Federal Aviation Administration; John Saunders, 40, founder of Saunders Advisory Group; and Saunders' employees, Hani Boutros, 26, of Brandon, and Lora Jones, 44, whose hometown was not listed by authorities.

Mr. Saunders' father, 58-year-old John Saunders Sr., was the co-pilot and sole survivor. He was taken to Johnson City Medical Center, where his condition Thursday night was listed as serious.

Authorities were investigating whether freezing temperatures caused icing on the wings.

"They're really in a state of shock right now," said Al Ward, a Tampa attorney whose brother works for the Saunders company.

Jochman, a father of two young children, spent many hours flying commercially and for charity, said his wife, Kathy Jochman.

Her husband left the Tampa Bay Executive Airport on Monday on a business trip for the Saunders company that took the group to a few destinations before a stop Thursday in Tennessee for a meeting with Forward Air, a client company based in Greeneville.

The plane had a stopover in Columbus, Ohio and crashed on a wooded ridge about 2 miles from the Greene County airport.

The elder Saunders, whose injuries were not life-threatening, was found lying on the ground about 40 feet from the burning wreckage.

The offices of Forward Air look out over the airport where the small plane was supposed to arrive. But employees grew worried when the group didn't show up. They first heard the news from an office radio that the plane had crashed.

"Everyone was shocked and really saddened," said Andrew Barnes, Forward Air's chief financial officer. He said he had had meetings during the fall with those who died, and they were returning to enroll employees in a 401(k) program. "Obviously, our prayers are with their families."

The senior Saunders, who worked on Wall Street, joined his son's company in 1993 as an adviser, a longtime friend said. His son started the company out of his den in 1987, specializing in designing employee benefit programs and individual portfolios.

The younger Mr. Saunders quickly gained a national reputation within the benefits administration community.

"He was full of energy," said Thad Cook, president of Securities Research, a brokerage firm in Greenwich, Conn., who handled all of the Saunders company's securities orders and has known the family for 20 years."He was a great guy. He was brilliant, especially for somebody who was so young."

Ward, a senior partner with Ward, Rovell & Van Eepoel, a major pension law firm based in Tampa, which represents a number of companies, including the St. Petersburg Times, said though the company manages money for individuals, its focus is on business benefits, particularly 401(k) programs.

"(John Saunders Jr. is) a real entrepreneur," Ward said. "He's been successful in this business since he started."

Jochman, the pilot, had served as the chief pilot for the Saunders company since August, according to his personal Web page.

His resume boasts not only hours spent flying and teaching, but time spent helping sick children.

Jochman served on the board of directors of the Florida/Georgia Chapter of Healing the Children, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides health care to children in need. He also was director of aviation for HTC, and was responsible for recruiting and training pilots to fly children needing medical treatment for free.

"He did a lot of charity work," his wife said. "He did good stuff."

Jochman was to go caroling with neighbors on Sunday, carrying on a tradition in the well-appointed Wyndtree subdivision near the Pasco-Pinellas county line.

Now friends may cancel the outing, because his absence would be too painful.

"He was the guy who would make us laugh," said Margaret Walker, who lives a few doors down. "He would crack jokes because we were such terrible singers."

She began to cry as she sought words to describe Jochman.

"He was amazing," she said, noting his aviation achievements and work with children.

"He always had a smile, always eager to say hello," said Leisha Spencer, who lives next door to the Jochmans' home, which is festooned with Christmas lights. "We're terribly saddened by this."

Jochman gave flying lessons at Tampa Bay Executive Airport in Odessa, where his wife worked in the office.

"We're shocked. Absolutely mortified," said airport manager Anita Hoover. "He was such a good man."

In addition to giving flight lessons, Jochman was a safety counselor for the FAA, Hoover said, and put on monthly clinics. He also participated in the Young Eagles program, which introduces children to aviation.

Cook, the Saunders' family friend, said he expects the elder Saunders to return to Tampa next week to take over the company's helm.

"It's going to be very difficult," Cook said. "I'm sure they will carry on."

- Times staff writers Jean Heller and Brady Dennis and researchers Kitty Bennett, John Martin, Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was used.


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