Cecil Murray died doing what he loved.
Skimming over the patchwork of farms and tangled jungles of Costa Rica had been a lifetime obsession. So much so that he converted flying from a hobby to a career, founding an agricultural aviation company in 1956.
But on a recent trip to the United States to sell one of his planes, his engine malfunctioned and his little Cessna slammed into a home in Oakland Park, Florida.
On Saturday, friends and family will gather in his hanger at the Tobías Bolaños International Airport in the western San José district of Pavas to pay tribute to a man known for his athleticism, his candid personality and the way he appreciated every drop of life.
“It´s very tragic and hard to accept,” said his younger sister, Zyra Apsinall. “He´s been in the background for our family for years. No one ever suspects something like this to happen. He was such a competent pilot.”
His flight left a Fort Lauderdale airport at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 17, destined for Fernandina Beach near Jacksonville. A few minutes into the flight he radioed the control tower and said he was experiencing engine trouble.
He wasn´t able to make it back to the airport, and his plane descended into a residential area where it crashed into an unoccupied home. Murray was the only person killed in the accident.
The local sheriff told Murray´s family it was a miracle no one else was hurt.
“He was in command right until the end,” his sister said.
Murray, 80, had been flying planes since he was 17. He logged so many flights in his 63 years that he stopped keeping track.
The longtime resident of the northwestern Guanacaste province, who most recently lived in San José, attended high school and college in Canada, where he learned to fly.
He is the grandson of a Scottish immigrant and the son of an engineer, Alex Murray, who was one of the founders of power and telecommunications giant the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).
When he returned to Costa Rica from school, he became one of the first pilots for LACSA, the national airline of Costa Rica.
Then, in 1956, he opened a crop-dusting company, Aviación Agrícola, which grew to 30 employees.
According to the daily La Nación, Murray recently held the title of the oldest active pilot in Costa Rica.
Though he was an outdoorsman, athlete and family man, his true passion was in the air.
“He was in his element. He was so at peace when he was flying,” said his daughter, Nango Murray, 53. “He was in harmony with the plane.”
She remembers how her father was always up early so as not to allow one minute of daylight to escape from his life.
“He´d have breakfast, read the newspaper and load the plane before any of us were out of bed,” his daughter said.
“He was never on time,” she remembered. “He was always early … always ready to go … always ready to enjoy life.”
He is survived by his wife, Janice MacKenzie, three daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 25.