Young pilot had a passion for flying

Friends describe him as a good kid. He was 21 and worked at the Zephyrhills airport.

By ERIN SULLIVAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - On Tuesday evening, Sean Scott asked his boss if he could take a friend of his for a quick plane ride.

Scott, a contract mechanic for TampaBay Aerosports at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, didn't have a plane of his own, but had his pilot's license. People at this airport are a small, tight-knit family. They let Scott borrow their planes without question. He was young - only turning 21 in March - but talented and trustworthy. A good kid, is how they all describe him. He loved flying. It was in his blood.

Friends said his family are all fliers, going back generations. His address is in Spring Hill - but he basically lived at the airport, flying, working on planes, hanging out with other flight-obsessed pilots, teasing the women who work at the terminal.

"He was a typical teenager," said Ann Conley, an administrative assistant at the terminal. "He always made you laugh."

Scott's boss, Abid Farooqui, said he could take the plane, but had to be back in 20 minutes. Farooqui needed it for an instruction class.

So Scott and his friend Bryan Lee Richardson, a 21-year-old from Zephyrhills, took off in the 800-pound light sport airplane.

And Farooqui waited and waited. They never came back.

Around 6:30 p.m., the plane crashed in a back yard about a half mile from the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.

Witnesses said they heard the plane sputter and then heard - and felt - the explosion from the crash. The plane landed a few feet from a house, a shed and a fishing boat on a trailer on Megan Lane in Zephyrhills.

The plane burst into flames. Hoss Pridgen, a 28-year-old who saw the crash, said he found a water hose and doused the fire. But it was too late for the young men inside. A neighbor, Christine Meier, said it was the worst thing she had seen in her 44 years. Hours after the crash, she still sobbed. She couldn't get their faces out of her head. She kept thinking about how, very soon, the young men's parents would get the terrible news.

Meier is a mother of two boys. She ached for the dead men's families, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I feel helpless," she said Tuesday night at the scene. "They were in the middle of the flames and I couldn't do anything to save them."

Farooqui, the owner of the plane, heard about the crash and raced over to the area, hoping it wasn't Scott. The plane was covered with a white cloth, but he could see the identification numbers. It was his plane. And that was his young friend underneath.

He didn't sleep much that night. On Wednesday, he went to the airport and met with other pilots and friends of Scott's. They sat at a table inside the tiny terminal, which is dark and cool, a respite from the blinding white tarmac all around it. The men rubbed their tired eyes and sank low in their seats.

"He was just taking a break from work," Farooqui kept saying, softly. "He was giving a friend a ride."

"Flying was his life's passion," said Sean Scott, an attorney and pilot who shared his friend's name. To differentiate between the two, he was called Senior. The younger Scott was called Junior.

"Sean loves life and he made you love life, too."

"He was like a brother," said Farooqui, who is in his 30s and is an officer with the company.

The men at the table didn't know Richardson, but felt sad for his family, too. They wouldn't speculate on what caused the crash. The plane was a certified legal aircraft that was, they said, meticulously maintained.

"There will be a full investigation and we will cooperate fully," said Phil Mednick, a pilot and friend of Scott's. "We want to get to the bottom of what happened. Right now, we just don't know."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or 813 909-4609. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.