By Mike Wright
Randy Berry was born to fly.
Not big jet airplanes, but small planes, the kinds that are used to provide aerial applications for agricultural uses, such as crops and hay.
“It is true flying,” Berry’s wife, Beverly, said. “No autopilot, an agricultural pilot is on the entire time. It’s very active flying.”
Berry, 67 was doing what he loves Wednesday morning, Sept. 23, 2020 when the single-engine plane he was flying crashed just 2 miles south of the Inverness Airport, killing him.
The Berrys own Eagle Vistas LLC, an agricultural pilot flight school and commercial ag sprayer. The company, in operation for 18 years, moved in 2018 from Fort Pierce to Inverness, and was stationed at the Inverness Airport.
He was piloting the company’s Piper Pawnee around 8 a.m. Wednesday from the Inverness Airport to spray a field just south. For unknown reasons, the plane crashed into the tops of trees in a heavily wooded area, catching fire, Citrus County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Cortney Marsh said.
The crash killed Berry, who was the plane’s lone occupant.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators are probing the crash. Andrew Chan, Inverness Airport fixed-base operator, said a crash investigation typically takes 12 to 18 months.
The crash happened on acreage owned by Albert “Bo” Rooks Jr., at the end of a cul-de-sac on South Woodwind Point. Rooks declined to comment.
Chan said three student pilots from Right Rudder Aviation, which he owns, were at the airport practicing takeoffs and landings when one saw the crash from the air. The pilot radioed the Federal Aviation Administration directly and reported the crash.
Word of Berry’s death spread quickly through Citrus County’s agricultural community.
“He was a good guy, an asset to our community,” cattle rancher Larry Rooks, chairman of the Citrus County Agricultural Alliance, said. “He was always open to helping the farmers.”
Ag Alliance member Mike Bays agreed.
“It’s a real loss,” Bays said. “The whole Ag Alliance group will feel it. We’ll pray for the family.”
Bays said he admires crop-dusting pilots who must fly their planes low to the ground.
“That’s a dangerous business,” he said.
While the cause of the crash is not yet determined, Chan echoed that observation.
“It’s one of the most dangerous forms of aviation,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate. Our hearts go to Beverly and his family.”
Beverly Berry said her husband was a third-generation pilot who had been in the business of agriculture flying for over 40 years. He was about to get recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for his numerous decades as a pilot and airplane mechanic.
He had over 30,000 hours of piloting, she said.
“We train our pilots that this is precision flying,” she said. “It’s not willy nilly or carefree.”
The crash sparked a small brush fire that fire rescue extinguished, Marsh said.