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
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
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
“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
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
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,”
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
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
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
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
The couple would celebrate their 33rd wedding
anniversary on March 2 and Frey’s 67th birthday two
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