Friends and loved ones of businessman Rick Poppell said his death in a plane crash leaves a void in their community.
"He was a leader in his church, a leader in business, a leader in this community," said Gary Browning, a close friend of Poppell and Wayne County's magistrate judge.
Poppell, of Poppell's Produce, had flown his plane to Valdosta to check on some of his family's Christmas tree sale lots Monday.
"He'd called them and said he was finished and on the way home and would be home in a couple of hours," Browning added. "Well, he's home. He's just not here."
Wayne County Sheriff John Carter said he was notified shortly after Poppell's single engine plane disappeared from radar south of Valdosta. Moments earlier, he had radioed in to advise of mechanical trouble.
"My deputies went out to the airport here to see if he'd made it home somehow," Carter explained. "That's when FAA told us they were treating this as a downed aircraft."
Carter knew Poppell as one of the supporters who helped sponsor a regional law enforcement appreciation dinner. He also knew him as the cousin of one of his deputies.
Poppell's Produce ships food all over the state of Georgia. This year, their Christmas trees adorn the Governor's mansion.
"Sandra and I had the great pleasure this holiday season of meeting Rick and his family when they donated the Christmas trees for the Governor's mansion. We are shocked and saddened by this tragedy. We will think of him fondly every time we return home and see the beautiful trees that he so generously gave to the people of Georgia. We send our deepest condolences to the Poppell family, and we mourn this loss," Governor Nathan Deal expressed to WTOC.
Browning attended church with Poppell and said he had just recently founded a new Sunday School class for young adults. It was, Browning said, another example of his response to issues.
"Many people can spot a need. He had the ability, the uncanny ability, to see needs and jump in and work on them himself."
The crash is under federal investigation by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board. His body will undergo autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday.