More detail on this person: William "Bill" Edwards: Edwards remembered as flier, soldier OCALA NATIONAL FOREST -- William "Bill" Edwards loved to fly. He survived two tours of duty in the hostile skies of Vietnam -- earning many medals for the rescue of U.S. troops under enemy fire and attacks on enemy positions, his parents recalled Monday. The 54-year-old retired U.S. Army Major was flying a twin-engine Queen Air Beech 65 Saturday morning when something went wrong. A hunter heard the plane's engine sputter before the crash in a remote area of east Orange County. Killed were Edwards; his wife, Ida, 47; their son, Jason, 10; Ida's brother, Rafael Rivera, 44, and his wife Maria, 38. "It's just a terrible tragedy because there were five of them lost," said Edwards' mother, Dorothy Freeman. "He was a very experienced pilot." She described her son in a Monday phone interview from her forest home: "A personality out of this world, handsome and an excellent pilot." Edwards' father, William E. Edwards of Terre Haute, Ind., said he is sad that people will soon forget his son and all his accomplishments. "Everyone liked Bill," the senior Edwards said. "He was a very likeable fella. He always had a smile and he liked to talk to you." Federal investigators continued to look for the cause of the crash Monday and said results would probably not be available for several months, according to Orange County sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Doug Sarubbi. A close-knit family, the Edwards lived in the Ocala National Forest area and the Riveras resided in Silver Springs Shores. The group was flying from Sanford to Fort Lauderdale, then to the Bahamas and finally to Puerto Rico to spend Christmas with family, officials said. A friend said they were very excited about the trip. The plane Edwards was flying is owned by Glenn Cone of Enterprise in South Volusia County. Cone could not be reached for comment Monday. Edwards was flying under instrument flight rules, which means navigating using instruments only. Experienced pilots only are allowed to fly in those conditions. When the plane crashed around 7:20 a.m. Saturday, the search for the wreckage was hampered by thick fog, muck and sand, officials said. Rafael Rivera apparently survived the crash, but died later at Orlando Regional Medial Center despite the efforts of rescuers to revive him. Dorothy Freeman said her son was a good pilot -- an instructor familiar with helicopters, jets and propeller-powered planes. He was certified to fly both private and commercial aircraft. Edwards flew a Huey helicopter for two combat tours in Vietnam and has flown rescue helicopters many times since his retirement, his mother said. He once piloted Alachua General Hospital's rescue helicopter, she added. Edwards' father said his son has flown for many important people. "He flew Henry Kissinger around several times," the elder Edwards noted. "And he flew George Steinbrenner. I know he liked that." Edwards first joined the U.S. Marine Corps, but switched his enlistment to the Army after two years, his mother said, working his way through the ranks and eventually becoming an officer and a pilot. He served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, she said. Edwards' father kept a scrapbook, reminding him of the many medals his son brought home from the war. Edwards was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars and other commendations for heroism under fire. "That was the time . . .he went over horrible enemy fire with a load of ammunition and got it placed down in the landing zone," his father recalled. "Then there was another time when he picked up nine wounded men under enemy fire." The senior Edwards also recalled his son's story of a mission where he and some other helicopter pilots blew 40 enemy ammunition boats out of the water in one mission. "That's about it as far as it goes for combat," he said. "But that's enough." Dorothy Freeman said years ago her son was invited to an Army Special Forces barbecue during their training in the Ocala National Forest and was met by a man he had rescued. "From Vietnam to the Ocala Forest, they met," she said. "He kept in touch with so many of his former friends and people he served with. There will be people here (for the funeral) from all over the U.S. "He was a loyal American, very much so," she said. "He was very proud of his Army service." Edwards' father said his son only recently retired from an air rescue company. "He didn't get to retire long," the elder Edwards said sadly. "Now he's gone forever." Dorothy Freeman said her son was also a devoted father and husband. The whole family was involved in East Marion Little League Baseball. The Edwards' son Jason, a fifth grader at East Marion Elementary School, was a Little League infielder. His dad was an umpire and his mother, Ida, worked on a fund-raising drive to build a new field, Freeman said. Jason's team is dedicating their next season to him, his coach said. Born in Terre Haute, Ind., Edwards had lived in Marion County since 1979, according to relatives. He has three other children who live in Hawaii. The Rivera family left behind three children. Their son, Rafael Rivera Jr., is a senior at Lake Weir High School. His sisters are Brenda, 19, and Aracelis Serrano, 20. Friends of the family are organizing a fund-raising drive to help the couple's children. Anyone who would like to help can call Miriam Claudio at 687-2984 or the Rivera's minister at 687-2984. Freeman asked that in lieu of flowers for the Edwards' family donations be made to the East Marion Little League.
Burial information: Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell, FL
This information was last updated 10/25/2017
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Date posted on this site: 01/20/2024
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