TAMPA — What was supposed to be a lark, a quick sightseeing flight to catch a view of Cedar Key by night, killed three people when the Cessna 206 plunged into the Gulf of Mexico.
Plant City resident and pilot Frank Gonzalez, 48, strawberry broker John Borchard, 43, and Julia Kelly, 49, visiting Florida from Iowa, died in the crash early Saturday, just after midnight.
Divers recovered Borchard's body about a mile from the Cedar Key airport that afternoon.
Sunday, divers located the plane's fuselage in the water about 3 miles from the island community. Gonzalez and Kelly were inside.
Derrick Doud of Nipomo, Calif., described Borchard, his first cousin, as someone who could never sit still.
"He always wanted to have fun. Boats, airplanes, cars that's what he did," Doud said. "He lived life to the fullest. He was one of those guys just on the edge. He liked the thrill."
Borchard, who lived on Harbour Island, leaves behind children in Arizona from a previous marriage and children from his current marriage in Tampa.
Martin Pure, manager of the Plant City airport, said Gonzalez was an expert pilot with a passion for flying. He often flew for Borchard. Pure said he was shocked to hear about the crash because Gonzalez was a particularly conscientious pilot.
"He followed the checklists, always checked gas when he was flying, double-checked to make sure everything was just right," Pure said.
Pure said Gonzalez also was a dedicated flight instructor.
"He would tell the students if you have any problems give me a call," Pure said. "He was always happy to help.''
Amy Davidson said her sister, Kelly, was a free spirit and a devoted mother. Kelly moved from Indiana to Iowa last year to be with her son, Jake, who just finished his freshman year playing basketball at the University of Iowa. She is from Marshall, Ill.
The sisters spent a week in Cedar Key with Jake and her second son, Luke.
"It was the best week she'd had in a long, long time," said Davidson, who lives in Longboat Key. "It was just such a blessing."
Borchard and Gonzalez flew out of the Plant City airport with two couples Friday evening.
At the Cedar Key airport, the group met Kelly and Davidson and asked them for a ride to a nearby restaurant.
Davidson said she, her sister and her two nephews pulled up to the airstrip and waved at the plane carrying Borchard and Gonzalez shortly after it landed.
"Little did I know that would be their demise," she said.
Later, Kelly asked for a ride in the plane so she could catch a glimpse of the fishing and tourist town by night. Borchard and Gonzalez complied, and at about midnight, the plane took off from the Cedar Key airport, heading south-southwest. The plane went down into the Gulf of Mexico about 15 minutes later.
The airport operates without flight controllers, and reportedly has a reputation as a challenging place to land an aircraft.
Cedar Key interim police Chief Virgil Sandlin said it appears the two died from the impact of the plane hitting the water.
Staff writers Joel Anderson and Michael Sanserino contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.