Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Brandon pastor Forrest Pollock, his son die in N.C. plane crash

Members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon pray for Pastor Forrest Pollock on Tuesday, before learning that he and his son were killed in a plane crash in North Carolina.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

Members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon pray for Pastor Forrest Pollock on Tuesday, before learning that he and his son were killed in a plane crash in North Carolina.

BRANDON — The call came Monday night: Pastor's plane is missing.

Beth McCrary put down the phone. "I'm going to church," she told her son. "I don't know if the doors will be open. I'll pray on the steps."

In the brand new, 3,450-seat sanctuary where the Rev. Forrest Pollock, 44, had preached only three sermons, McCrary huddled with about 100 other members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church. Praying.

Hours passed.

It was Tuesday morning when they finally knew: Pollock and his son were dead.

• • •

On Monday morning, Pollock lifted his single-engine Piper from the runway at Rutherford County Airport in western North Carolina. His son, Preston, 13, sat with him in the cockpit.

Pollock, an experienced pilot, had gone to North Carolina to see his mother, said the Rev. George Thomasson, an associate pastor at Bell Shoals. He planned to swing by Arkansas to pick up a friend before heading to a conference of Christian leaders in Texas.

It was 5 a.m., still dark, and windy. The National Weather Service had issued a high-wind warning for the Asheville area hours before, and there were reports of trees snapping in half in gusts up to 60 mph.

That early, the airport was empty of staff. Airport manager Greg Turner said later he would have told Pollock not to take off.

"We all wish we could have been here to talk him out of it," Turner said.

• • •

Forrest Pollock's smile beamed from the big screen at the Brandon theater, advertising his church.

He was an unabashed pitchman for his faith. "God's in management, I'm in sales," he said once.

Pollock came to Bell Shoals Baptist Church in 2002, replacing an outgoing pastor who had resigned over an extramarital affair.

He arrived at the burgeoning megachurch from a smaller Louisiana congregation, but he was undaunted by the size of his new flock.

Under his leadership, the church grew even more, opening a $24-million sanctuary in April to hold its nearly 6,000-strong congregation.

"He just wanted to let the Lord use him," said church member Terry Kemple. "He was enjoying himself, enjoying doing what he was doing."

Pollock also reached out politically. His church became a local powerhouse in conservative politics, organizing protests, petition drives and political debates, and hosting a summit of A-list national conservative leaders last fall.

When gay rights activists came to picket the summit, Pollock met them on the church lawn.

"Judge not lest ye be judged," he told them.

"He was kind and gentle even as he disagreed," said state Sen. Ronda Storms of Valrico, a friend and political ally. "And he disagreed with a smile … even if the smile was a little fierce."

When he preached, he held a microphone in one hand, bounding across the stage.

The last sermon he preached was on Sunday, Mother's Day.

He talked about how he made sure he told each of his six children how much he loved them, every day.

If anything happened to him, he said, he wanted to make sure they knew.

• • •

When a teacher asked Preston Pollock what his favorite activity was, he had an answer: flying with his father.

"He was a joyful young man," recalled Jennifer Lime, who taught Preston at Bell Shoals Baptist Academy before he started home school in sixth grade.

Audra Russell, 12, a former classmate of Preston's, said he was a well-liked "class clown."

"I'm going to miss him. He was pretty funny," Audra said. "At least he's with his father."

• • •

As Monday night gave way to Tuesday morning, about a half-dozen people still knelt in prayer.

Updates on the search for Pollock's plane flashed on the sanctuary's two giant screens.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the screens went blank. Ten minutes later, Thomasson, the associate pastor, came to the pulpit.

Pilots from the Civil Air Patrol had spotted Pollock's plane on the side of Cold Mountain in North Carolina. Searchers on foot had reached the crash site. Father and son were both dead.

"All of our hearts are broken," he said, flanked on stage by a dozen church members, including Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee.

Cries erupted from those at the church.

Federal authorities and the National Transportation Safety Board are still trying to determine the exact cause of the crash.

By afternoon, members drifted in and out of the church lobby, many of them dazed or red-eyed.

The Rev. Jay Strike, an associate pastor, said the church leaders weren't sure what they would do now.

They would have to pray on it, he said.

Times staff writers Jan Wesner, Andrew Meacham and Phuong Nguyen and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or [email protected]

>>Fast Facts

Pastor Pollock's plane

Model: Piper Cherokee PA-32-260

Year built: 1966

Weight: 3,400 pounds

Fuel capacity: 84 gallons

Top speed: 170 mph

Cruising speed: 157 mph

Maximum altitude: 12,800 feet

Source: Times research

Brandon pastor Forrest Pollock, his son die in N.C. plane crash 05/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 11:03am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.