Young man who died alone in plane crash near Gainesville dreamed of becoming commercial pilot

Adrien James Valentine, 21, of Melrose is seen in this undated photograph provided by his family on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Valentine died alone in the crash of a small plane on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, while flying in bad weather near Gainesville, Fla. His family said he died “doing what he loved to do, flying a plane,” and that he wanted to become a commercial pilot. (Jones-Gallagher Funeral Home/WUFT News)

The pilot who died alone in a small plane crash earlier this week near Gainesville – after pleading for help in bad weather from an air traffic controller over his radio and expressing his love for his parents – dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot, his family says.

The pilot was the plane’s new owner, Adrien James Valentine, 21, of Melrose, according to his obituary published late Thursday. His family wrote that he died “doing what he loved to do, flying a plane,” and that his ambition was to become a commercial pilot.

Valentine died Tuesday in the crash of a Cherokee Piper 180 he had bought two weeks ago. The plane went down in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in poor weather as Valentine flew north from Kissimmee, a little over 100 miles away. His presumed destination was the regional airport in Gainesville where he once worked refueling and handling small planes and jets.

Valentine loved flying, skydiving and playing video games and music, his family said. He played the guitar and piano and collected pocket watches and old clocks. He completed his Eagle Scout project at the Goldhead State Park in Keystone, Florida.

Valentine graduated in 2020 from Keystone Heights High and played basketball and tennis there. He previously worked as a lineman at Gainesville’s airport, his family said.

Valentine is survived by his parents, Russell and Kathleen Valentine; a sister Kasey Valentine, aunts and uncles and grandparents. Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at St. William Catholic Church in Keystone Heights.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash. It has said the plane crashed due to unknown circumstances. Valentine received his pilot’s license in May 2021, according to FAA records..

In his final moments, Valentine told an air traffic controller who was trying to assist him that he was lost in poor visibility and to tell his parents that he loved them. “I’m losing altitude,” he said. He asked the controller whether he should climb or descend or go left or right and indicated he could not get a clear reading from his instruments in the cockpit.

“I don’t think I can hold my altitude without descending,” he said over the radio, according to a recording of radio traffic obtained by WUFT News. “How many miles am I from Gainesville?”

Valentine departed in a small, propeller-driven plane, a Cherokee Piper 180, from Kissimmee Gateway Airport about 12:45 p.m. and flew about 100 miles north toward Gainesville. At about 1:25 p.m., he flew very low – below 1,000 feet – before climbing again to about 3,000 feet and veering west about 15 minutes later.

At about 2 p.m., the plane took a series of sharp turns in rapid succession in heavily overcast weather, climbed as high as 6,800 feet and crashed about 300 mph, according to the plane’s radar track.

The plane’s maximum speed is listed by its manufacturer at 142 mph, suggesting the plane dove straight toward the ground in its final moments.

The airfield manager at the Kissimmee airport, Ramon Senorans, confirmed that the plane took off at 12:45 p.m. under visual flight rules – meaning pilots are expected to remain clear of clouds and maintain a minimum of 1,000 feet above ground level. He did not file a flight plan, which was not required. Weather around Gainesville on Tuesday was rainy with storms through most of the day.

Radio traffic between the pilot and Kissimmee’s tower showed that Valentine as he prepared for takeoff was warned that the airport was under instrument flight rules, meaning clouds and bad weather were too thick in the vicinity to see clearly. Then, seconds before takeoff, the controller encouraged the pilot to wait because it appeared that conditions were clearing for visual rules.

“It looks like it’s updating now to be not IFR, showing a few (clouds) at 800 (feet),” the controller told him. “So, if you stand by a minute or two we’ll be VFR.”

Valentine took off about three minutes later.


This is a breaking news story. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

About Gabriel Velasquez Neira

Gabriel is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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