Steve Fox wanted his family business to live on after him.
Passionate about flying and about his air charter company, Fox once asked buddy Jim Collier to make clear to Fox’s sons how much he wanted them to carry on with Air America Flight Services after he was gone.
"He said, ‘If anything happens to me, tell those boys to keep that place going," Collier recalled.
On Thursday, tragedy did befall the family.
Fox, 66, of Indian Rocks Beach was killed when a jet in his company’s fleet crashed shortly after landing in South Carolina, authorities said.
Fox was co-pilot aboard a Dassault Falcon 50 when the triple-engine plane ran off the runway at Greenville Downtown Airport and fell 40 to 50 feet before the fuselage split behind the cockpit, airport officials said. Fox was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The other pilot, 49-year-old John Christian Caswell of Port St. Lucie, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, according to the Greenville County Coroner’s Office.
Two passengers, a husband and wife, survived but are in serious condition, officials said.
Authorities said the reason for the crash was not immediately clear but the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Voice recordings, air traffic control recordings from minutes before the crash and surveillance video from nearby businesses will help provide answers to what happened as the plane arrived at the airport, Dan Boggs, air safety investigator with NTSB, told reporters at a news conference Friday, according to the Greenville News.
Boggs said a crane was brought in to help remove a voice recorder from the belly of the plane, the News reported. Investigators weren’t sure whether the plane, a 1982 model, had a flight data recorder due to its age. Boggs said the plane was flying from Tampa and Greenville was it’s final destination. The report did not specify which airport in Tampa.
Boggs said both Caswell and Fox had significant experience flying, logging 11,600 hours and 5,500 hours, respectively. A preliminary crash report is expected in two to three weeks and a full report will take 12 to 18 months.
The plane appeared to land successfully before it ran off the runway, Joe Frasher, the airport’s director, said at a news conference Thursday.
"We all saw it land and for some reason it did not stop," he said.
After leaving the runway, the plane plunged down a grassy embankment, crashed through a fence and came to rest on Airport Road. Crews cleaned up fuel that spilled from the plane.
Frasher said Thursday evening that one of the injured passengers was able to speak and the other was in surgery. Their names have not been released.
Frasher called it the worst crash the Greenville airport has seen in 20 years.
"We have aircraft this large and larger routinely land at this ramp," he said. "It’s very rare that this has happened."
FAA records show that the plane is owned by Global Aircraft Acquisitions LLC of Delaware. Its two previous owners were companies in Pinellas County.
Fox is listed in Florida state records as the registered agent for Air America Flight Services Inc. and Clearwater Aviation. The companies are headquartered at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport and provide executive flight charters, aircraft management, maintenance services and pilot training, according to their websites. Air America also has a location in West Palm Beach.
Clearwater Aviation is a tenant at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, said airport spokeswoman Michelle Routh.
A man who answered a phone number listed for the businesses declined to comment Friday.
A page on Air America’s site features photos of a Falcon 50, a sleek aircraft that seats nine in a plush leather-appointed cabin. The jet has a range of 3,400 miles and top speed of 400 knots, the website says.
Fox ran the company with his sons Travis and Tim, according to Collier, a Hudson accountant who knew Steve Fox for about 13 years and used to do his books. Fox lived in Indian Rocks Beach with his wife Valerie, Collier said.
Steve Fox was not rated to captain a jet like the Dassault, so for flights like the one on Thursday, he served as co-pilot and got someone else to captain the aircraft, according to Collier.
Collier is not a pilot but said he has fond memories of flying with Fox over the men’s 13-year friendship.
"When the Lord says you’re going, you’re going," Collier said. "I’m going to miss him. He was just one hell of a guy."
Collier picked up the phone Friday morning and called Travis Fox, who was waiting for more details on the crash, and delivered his message as requested: Remember your father wanted you to keep the business going.
"He’s so distraught," Collier said, "but he’s in there at work."
Staff writer Josh Fiallo contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.