Polk County

Friends say Lakeland lawyer killed in Christmas Eve plane crash was an 'experienced pilot'

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) - It was supposed to be a day trip on Christmas Eve.

That's what John Shannon was hoping for Sunday - a quick getaway to Key West. The loving and dedicated father couldn't wait to spend the day with family and friends on his twin-engine Cessna 340.

But the trip turned tragic within minutes.

Shortly after taking off in dense fog at approximately 7:15 a.m., things went horribly wrong. The plane plunged to the ground and burst into flames - killing all five people on board, including the Lakeland lawyer.

For John Shannon, life was all about family and faith. His world revolved around the girls he raised as a single dad. He adored them, and every chance he got, he would try and schedule trips in his twin-engine plane.

Friends say the family often took trips to the Keys and around the state, describing John Shannon as "an experienced pilot."

On board the doomed Christmas Eve flight was the most precious of cargo - John's daughters Olivia and Victoria, along with Victoria's new husband Peter Worthington and family friend Krista Clayton.

"It was like someone just slugs you in the stomach," said longtime family friend Lynn Andersen. "You're doubled over and you don't know how to react."

Andersen tells WFLA that she's known John Shannon and his daughters since the girls were in kindergarten and that this feels like losing family.

"Those two meant more to him than anything in the whole world," she said.

The Bartow Municipal Airport was blanketed with heavy fog Sunday morning with reports of zero visibility, leaving many to question why an experienced pilot would fly in unfavorable weather conditions.

"I just can't think that he would have done anything that would have jeopardized them," Andersen said. "I have to think it was a freak accident or the engine."

Andy Ritchie considered the 70-year-old a close friend. The associate pastor for St. Paul Lutheran Church, where Shannon was a longtime member, maintains that there's no way his buddy would have ever done anything irresponsible when flying.

"He was a very experienced pilot. Actually just told me [the plane] pretty recently some had maintenance," he said. "He was very particular about things."

Pastor Ritchie explains that the well-known attorney, who served in the Marine Corps, was meticulous, kept the plane in tip-top shape and recently talked about selling it. When the Pastor heard what happened to his dear friend and congregation member, his eyes welled and he turned to his own family members.

He couldn't stop the tears from falling.

He shared with them a message, one that John Shannon himself lived by each day.

"I make sure I tell my kids I love them. I always do. I told them this is why we do this, I told my wife and kids, this is why we say we love each other. We just don't know when our last day will be," said Pastor Ritchie.

Many questions remain, including the ultimate mystery - what caused this plane to fall from the sky Sunday morning? NTSB investigators are examining the wreckage and trying to determine the cause of the crash.

People are also asking when a memorial service will be held for the victims. Pastor Ritchie says it will most likely take place next week.

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