To tackle her fear of heights, Ann-Margaret Johnston took to the skies. By her side was flight instructor Kelly Chandler, a staple in the Gainesville aviation community, who died Monday night.
“You’re not going to find anyone with the patience that he had, that I need,” she said. “He held my hand and I needed that. If I didn’t have him, I would have never gotten my license.”
Chandler, 50, was the passenger in a 1976 Rockwell Commander 112 that crashed Oct. 16 outside of Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. He died Monday night from injuries suffered in the crash.
The pilot, Lawrence Youhanaian, 74, of Gainesville, died at the scene. A nearby mechanic pulled Chandler from the crash site.
Chandler’s ubiquitous presence at Lanier Flight Center left indelible impressions for Gainesville residents learning to fly.
“He was always in the air and always on the radio,” said Experimental Aircraft Association Gainesville chapter Vice President Shane Crider.
Crider and Gainesville’s Chapter 611 held a fundraiser on Oct. 25 to benefit Chandler and his medical bills. For students coming to Lanier Flight Center, Chandler’s even-keeled temperament and personability was well-known.
“Kelly was one of the good guys,” said Maj. Ross Statham of the Florida Civil Air Patrol. “Kelly was one of those people that was very approachable, and he went out of his way to ask how you were doing and what you were up to and what was up in your life.”
As he was working toward his own pilot ratings, independent flight instructor Curtiss Ford came to know Chandler, a man who knew everybody’s name and was always glad you came.
“He treated everybody the same, with the same big smile, the same big greeting,” Ford said.
Chandler was invested in his students’ lives and accomplishments, Johnston said. After her first solo flight, he called her, eager to find out how it went.
“I cried and cried and said, ‘I’m never getting in that plane again for the rest of my life,’ and ‘I hate this,’ and ‘What am I doing?’” she said to Chandler on the phone. “He had me back up in the air two days later.”
Johnston said Chandler had texted her an hour before the crash, asking her when she wanted to fly next. The two worked on animal rescues, the first time being a mission to fly dogs out of Nashville, Tenn.
“He knew that that’s what would get me up in the airplane and make me feel comfortable, and he was right there with me,” Johnston said.
On Oct. 16, a wing of the plane made contact with power line poles and caused the aircraft to roll, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report. A passer-by managed to pull Chandler out but was unable to reach Youhanaian, according to the report.
“My thoughts were if anybody will survive that, Kelly will because he was in great physical shape,” Ford said when he heard of the crash. “He was a fighter.”
The friendly radio hellos from Chandler may be gone, but his spirit in Gainesville will remain, Statham said.
“There won’t be a time that I fly in and out of Gainesville, Ga., that I won’t think of Kelly Chandler,” he said.