LAKELAND, Fla. -- Phillips Bait and Tackle was the shop that William Phillips owned in Lakeland, and it also housed one of his passions. Friends say Phillips, who would have turned 80 on Monday, was crazy about fishing, and also about building and flying planes.
So, it gives his friends at least a little bit of hope knowing that he died doing what he loved.
On Sunday, Phillips was flying a single engine Challenger aircraft that FAA records show he built and owned. While landing at Blackwater Creek Flight Park in Plant City, something went wrong, and his plane landed on the belly of the fuselage. Among the wreckage, rescue crews found his body still strapped into the seat.
"He was a clown. He was always nice," says longtime friend Lee Childress. "He was the type of person who would give the shirt off his back to you."
And that's how people knew Phillips, whether they met him at his bait shop, or got to know him as a neighbor who both walked and flew into their lives.
"You couldn't find a better person or neighbor or friend. He'd do anything for anybody," says longtime neighbor and friend Mark Ragsdale. "He died doing what he liked doing the best. I think he's built a couple of those planes. He's just a hardworking easygoing man. He worked seven days a week."
And his friends plan to work just as often to make sure his memory lives on.