Flowers, cards and letters adorned the front desk of a French Valley Airport flight school Wednesday following the death of a well-known local helicopter pilot who crashed and died near Temecula.
The tributes continue after Carl Johan Nurmi, 61, of Corona just a few miles from the airport, where his flight school was located, near the French Valley Cafe.
Funeral plans were still pending for Nurmi as the news set in for his colleagues.
Originally from Sweden, Nurmi owned and operated USA Academy of Aviation, a helicopter flight school based at the airport, for more than a decade.
Pat Rodgers, executive director and chief pilot of at French Valley Airport, said he knew him for at least 12 of those years.
"I generally saw him every day. It is going to be a very different place without him," Rodgers told Patch. "He was always smiling, always happy, always friendly."
Known by colleagues as Johan, Nurmi was a FAA Gold Seal helicopter flight instructor with about 25 years of experience and more than 11,000 flight hours. He held seven U.S. and five international helicopter flight speed records, according to the flight school's website.
Nurmi in published reports said he tried to beat his own record every year in order to raise money for charity.
One of those records was accomplished with Rodgers. In 2006, the pair set out to set a world record for the longest turbine helicopter flight.
"We flew from San Diego to Savannah, Ga.," Rodgers said.
In addition to helping aspiring helicopter pilots log hours, Nurmi did aerial photography and offered sightseeing tours, according to his Facebook profile.
Nurmi was an experienced pilot who more than once took a reporter up into the air to check out a plane crash or a fire.
Authorities said Nurmi was at the controls of a Robinson R22 that crash-landed southwest of Lake Skinner and east of French Valley Airport about 10:15 a.m. Monday.
A passenger walked away from the accident.
The news of his friend's death has been unsettling for Rodgers.
"He thoroughly enjoyed being an instructor and a pilot," Rodgers said. "That is why this is kind of a shock to me.
"It was a routine day of instructing for him; I am not about to speculate..."
Investigators with the the National Transportation Safety Board were in charge of the probe. A spokesperson for NTSB could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
"We know there are risks we take every time we climb into one of these things but it is what we love to do—what he loved to do," Rodgers said. —City News Service contributed to this report.