St. Augustine, Fla.-- People gathered to say goodbye to pilot Hoke Smith.
Friday was the first of several memorials for the victims of a medical helicopter crash. Mayo Clinic Dr. Luis Bonilla, technician David Hines, along with pilot Hoke Smith died Monday morning in a flight to Gainesville from St. Augustine. Their helicopter crashed in Clay County. The wreckage has now been taken to Atlanta where investigators will comb through it to pinpoint a cause.
Bill Carter remembers Smith well. They spent years flying above Northeast Florida together. Now he can't believe his friend is gone. "He's just one of the best pilots I know," said Carter.
Carter says the crash was a surprise to him because he knows Hoke can handle some tough situations. "He knew how to fly better than most people I know. I know a lot of pilots. He knew what to do, what not to do, what was safe and what wasn't safe," said Carter.
Hoke was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He flew his first flight at age 16 and started his company, SK Jets, at Craig Airfield, where he and Carter became friends. Decades later, he was still passionate about flying and always wanted to help. Carter says Hoke could handle many situations. "With helicopters, if one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. He was an artist with helicopters," said Carter.
Now as investigators try to figure out why this happened, family and friends like Carter have some comfort in knowing Hoke died doing what he loved. "Hoke wouldn't take chances with people's lives. He was a safe pilot and loved to fly," said Carter.
Hoke's funeral is Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica in downtown St. Augustine. The victims of the helicopter crash will be honored during the Tournament of Roses parade next week.