Minooka Pilot Dies in Fla. Crash

Scott Tezak crashed into wooded area north of Tampa-St. Petersburg, officials say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    There's no question that Scott Tezak loved being in the air. He flew planes. He taught others how to fly them. And he jumped out of them.

    But a flight Friday night from the Gulf Coast of Florida would be the last for the 23-year-old Minooka resident.

    Emergency Crews Scour Crash Scene

    [CHI] Emergency Crews Scour Crash Scene
    Authorities near Spring Hill, Fla. investigate the crash that killed Scott Tezak, a pilot from Minooka, Ill.

    The single-engine Czech Sport Aircraft he was piloting for a client back to Illinois went down in a wooded area near Spring Hill, Fla.

    "He appreciated life. There was never a dull moment, and he lived that way until the very end," said Tezak's cousin, Katie Ziegler.

    Authorities from the Hernando County Sheriff's Department said they began receiving calls about a possible crash at about 10:30 p.m. ET.

    Oddly, Ziegler said Tezak's fiancée received a text message from the pilot more than an hour before the crash telling her that he was just about to take off. Given the timing, the family is unclear as to why he was still so close to the airport.

    Had he been circling? Had he flown a distance, encoutered problems, and turned back? 

    They're questions the family -- his mother, father, younger sister, fiancée and a daughter born in December -- hopes get answered.

    Investigators have told Tezak's family the plane exploded and that his body was found about three-quarters of a mile away from the aircraft debris.

    "It lit up the sky, you couldn't miss that. Whoever didn't see it actually go down, they couldn't have missed the explosion," a witness, Mario Vina, told BayNews9.

    A county commissioner, who is also a pilot from the area, said it was "obvious" that Tezak had bailed out from a malfunctioning plane.

    "The pilot actually landed on his feet," Commissioner Dave Russel told TBO.com, adding that the plane was in a "flat spin" and appeared to have come apart in the air.

    The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were on-site Saturday investigating a cause of the crash.

    Tezak had been a pilot for about the last five years and had recently gotten into teaching others how to fly.  Ziegler said her cousin was meticulous.  He always inspected the equipment properly and always took the necessary precautions, she said.

    "He was trying to get started, trying to get his hours.  He wanted to fly for a living, maybe commercially or by flying a private jet for somebody," said Ziegler.

    A quote -- a favorite she shared with her cousin -- explained Tezak's take on life, she said:

    "It is better to pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion than fade and wither dismally with age."