PLACERVILLE (CBS 13) — The pilot who died in Tuesday’s Palo Alto plane crash is being described as a small-town hero. The non-profit he volunteered for has identified him as Willard John Spencer of Placerville.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Spencer was flying a teen girl and her mom to a hospital in Palo Alto but had trouble landing. Spencer crashed near the airport and landed in a pond.
Every day for the past two years, Lindsay Irwin has had a friendly exchange with Willard John Spencer.
“He always tried to take everyone flying, saying ‘come on I’ll take you anywhere you need to go!’ He was so sweet,” said Irwin. “He flew the airplanes and helped people battling breast cancer, not just sick kids like at Stanford, but he flew everywhere.”
Irwin described Spencer as a selfless man who loved helping others. That love took him thousands of feet up in the air as a pilot who volunteered his time flying sick patients to hospitals all across the state.
Irwin said Spencer had a tennis game Tuesday morning but moved back his plans to fly out the patient to Palo Alto.
“He pushed back his tennis game to do yesterday’s flight, he’s like ‘I’ll play tennis later,’” Irwin added.
Spencer took a 16-year-old patient and her mom to a hospital in Palo Alto. Moments before Spencer was supposed to land, he got on the radio, and asked for clarification.
Air traffic controller recordings indicate Spencer wasn’t familiar with the airfield.
“As I understand it, and it’s not confirmed yet, the airplane made a landing attempt, it bounced. The pilot then opted to do what’s called a go-around,” said NTSB Air Safety Investigator, Michael Huhn.
Spencer and his two passengers crashed into the Baylands Lagoon and landed in a pond.
The non-profit agency Spencer flew for said he “…has served more than 75 families with 125 flights to help them receive the care they needed. He will be greatly missed by the staff at angel flight west and his fellow volunteers.”
A pilot angel with a strong love for helping people around him, who died doing what he loved.
“In his retirement, that’s what he did, he flew people, and as many as he could,” Irwin said.
The teen and her mom are recovering at a hospital. CBS13 reached out to Spencer’s wife today, but she wasn’t home.