TAMPA, Florida -- Friends of Larry and Karen Ward came and went from the couple's Davis Islands home Saturday, as word spread that Larry Ward was killed in a helicopter crash.
Ward, in a Robinson R-22, took off Friday from Clearwater's Tampa Bay Aviation. The chopper went down mid-afternoon in Tampa Bay waters near Apollo Beach.
"Great guy. He and Karen have been wonderful neighbors," said Cathy Lynch Buckhorn, the wife of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. She said Ward, a captain for American Airlines, had a passion for flying.
"Outstanding pilot, very careful, very cautions. He had his instructor's license as a helicopter pilot," said Buckhorn.
Ward, along with his his wife, was active in the Tampa Bay community, donating to and volunteering with arts organizations and a mental health charity.
On Friday, witness statements pointed to some type of mechanical problem. "[There was]a loud pop, and when it popped I saw the blade of the helicopter spiraling down to the ground," Jeff Kritz told 10 News.
On Saturday morning, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Officerecovered Ward's body and later two investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board went door-to-door in the waterfront neighborhood.
They're especially interested in talking with anyone else who saw that rotor blade and where it may have landed. Still, investigator Bob Gretz said it's way too early for answers. "So we really keep an open mind and going through and documenting the evidence and seeing where it takes us," said Gretz at the crash site.
In the meantime, inside a house decorated for the holidays, a family grieves. Ward had just celebrated his 60th birthday on Thanksgiving.