Local Pilot Missing In North Atlantic

BROOKSVILLE –

An international search is on for a veteran

Spring Hill pilot who went down Thursday morning in a

severe storm off the coast of Iceland.

Greg Frey, 66, was traveling from Rekyjavik to Scotland

in a Piper Cherokee single-engine plane when he made a

mayday call to report “severe icing on the plane’s

control surfaces,” according to a news release issued

Thursday from the United Kingdom Defense Ministry.

Frey (pronounced “Fry”) told traffic controllers that

he was “ditching” the plane about 100 miles south of

Iceland, the release states.

He was wearing a survival suit that could offer some

protection from the icy waters, according to the

release.

He also had a life raft aboard the plane, according to

Greg Frey Jr., Frey’s son who flew Thursday from

California to Spring Hill to be with family members

while awaiting updates on the search.

Frey had an emergency transponder that sent a distress

signal after the crash, which confirmed that the plane

was in the water, according to the defense ministry

release.

The Royal Air Force launched its Nimrod aircraft to

join the Iceland Coast Guard in the search. By Friday

evening, no trace of the plane, or Frey, had been

found.

“The weather conditions are very bad with heavy

thunderstorms and 20-foot swells,” a RAF spokesman said

in the release. “We always try to remain optimistic on

these occasions, but this is very much a race against

time to find the pilot. You have to be realistic as

well as hopeful.”

By Friday, family members had gathered at the Spring

Hill home that Frey shares with his wife Maureen,

waiting word from U.S. embassies and the Iceland Coast

Guard.

Among them was Frey Jr., who said the news that the

distress beacon sounded for more than an hour after the

crash is encouraging.

“That means he survived the impact,” Frey Jr. said.

“That’s giving us some hope.”

The search had been halted temporarily until dawn, Greg

Jr. said Friday afternoon.

The family has gotten calls from the American Consulate

and the American Red Cross. A spokesman for U.S. Rep.

Ginny Brown-Waite said Friday that the Brooksville

Republican was doing what she could to ensure the lines

of communication remained open.

Frey’s ultimate destination was Germany, where he

planned to deliver the Piper to its new owner. He works

for Globe Aero Ltd., a Lakeland-based firm that

specializes in ferrying planes throughout the world.

Frey, who’d worked for the company for about a year,

left Lakeland on Monday and headed up the east coast to

Bangor, Maine, Globe Aero president Phil Waldman said

Friday.

He then flew into Canada, across Greenland and on to

Iceland, where he ran into storm delays and spent three

days “waiting for the weather to move out of his way,”

Waldman said.

Frey took off Thursday and likely encountered that same

storm system, Waldman said. Ice on the wings slows an

airplane down, forcing the pilot to descend, he said.

Waldman acknowledged Friday afternoon that, nearly 36

hours after the crash, it would be “a miracle” if Frey

is found alive.

“The North Atlantic is not forgiving,” he said.

Waldman and others reached Friday described Frey as the

most competent of pilots, a man with a serious love for

flying and an easygoing personality.

He started flying at the age of 16, when he left a job

in a steel mill to pursue a career in commercial

aviation, Frey Jr. said.

He retired at age 60 after flying commercial planes for

34 years. But he kept flying, doing aerial photography

for a real estate company and working as a private

pilot for a real estate developer before taking the job

with Globe Aero, Frey Jr. said.

“It wasn’t a job, it was a passion,” he said. “It was

something he loved second to his family.”

Frey also is well-known in the local aviation

community.

He is a former board member of the Hernando County

Aviation and Airport Authority and an active member in

the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Hernando County

chapter.

Frey was instrumental in securing a hanger at the

county airport for the chapter, fellow EAA member

Bernie Berger said.

Berger described Frey as “an idea man.”

“He has an ability to get people together,” Berger

said.

Frey, who owns a single-engine Cessna, also works to

instill a love of flying in young people as an active

member of the Young Eagles program. He and other EAA

members recently made plans to visit local schools to

talk about the joys of aviation and the career

opportunities in the field, Berger said.

Greg and Maureen Frey moved to Spring Hill in 1981.

They have another son, Chris, and two daughters, Megan

and Lisa.

The couple would celebrate their 33rd wedding

anniversary on March 2 and Frey’s 67th birthday two

days later.

Frey Jr. said the family knew the possible perils of

crossing the ocean in a single engine plane.

“Everybody understood the risk, and we had confidence

in him,” he said, “but sometimes situations tend to be

out of our hands.”

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286

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