UPDATED: 3:10 p.m., Thursday
"Very tough. We're going miss him as a neighbor and as friends," said Fairfield condominium resident Sam Hopmeier in response to the news that Russell Hazelton, the pilot of the plane that crashed into Creve Coeur Lake Wednesday evening, died overnight after the crash.
Authorities made the announcement Thursday morning. They said Hazelton's wife, Suzanne, remains in critical condition Thursday afternoon.
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As previously reported by Patch, .
Russell and Suzanne, of 805 Fairfield Lake Drive in Town and Country, reportedly spent their time between three homes. Neighbors tell Patch that Russell was a retired TWA pilot and the couple usually spent four months each year at each of their homes in St. Louis, Vermont and Pennsylvania.
"I think Russell will be greatly missed and we are praying for Suzie. I know it's in the Lord's hands, but we are praying for her nonetheless," next-door neighbor Juana Johnson tells Patch. She and her husband James, a bishop at Bethesda Temple Church in Normandy, would watch the Hazeltons home when they were out of town. They said the Hazeltons were extremely friendly, welcoming and active in the neighborhood.
"It's going to drastically change the complexity of the neighborhood. Drastically," James Johnson said. "We have been deeply touched by this tragedy."
"She was just what you think of when you think of a good neighbor," Juana added.
It's a sentiment shared by all of the neighbors Patch spoke with.
One long-time neighbor who knew the Hazeltons for years, but did not want to be identified, described the situation as a "terrible tragedy" and described the couple as "wonderful people" who were "loved in the neighborhood."
Suzanne reportedly helped organize a popular neighborhood pool party each year.
"Suzie and Russ were very much a part of the community," said a tearful Pat Hopmeier who also knew the couple for years. "Very dear. Very giving."
Pat and her husband Sam visited the Hazeltons at their Pennsylvania lake house.
Pat said the couple met in Pennsylvania and that they actually grew up together because their families were friends who lived near each other on the lake.
"Sad," was Pat's hard-to-muster comment on the tragedy.
"We hope she can recover," Sam said of Suzanne's current condition. "Just very warm and open and sharing and loving."
Russell and Suzanne were also both graduates of the city's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program through the local police and fire departments. The CERT program trains residents how to assist the community in the event of a large-scale disaster.
Sam completed the CERT program with the Hazeltons and close to 40 other Fairfield residents.
"They were willing to be involved in anything and everything in the community. They were just that type of people. Gregarious, involved and wiling to help and participate in virtually everything," Sam tells Patch.
The Johnsons say the couple used to make the drive from the Midwest to the Northeast, but began flying back and forth more in recent years.
Juana said she used to pack them food for their trips.
"Our grandchildren even played with each other. They looked forward to seeing each other every Thanksgiving," Juana explained. "They're wonderful neighbors. I was looking so forward to them coming home."
The Hazeltons were on their way to Creve Coeur Airport from Pennsylvania when the plane crashed.
"He was always very cautious in conversations," Sam told Patch. "Circumstances occurred that with the best of intentions something went wrong. We'll let the FAA decide what went wrong."
Neighbors said they are not sure a funeral service will be held in the area, since most of the Hazelton's family is in the Northeast.
Read Previous Stories:
- Updated: Two in Critical Condition After Plane Crashes Into Creve Coeur Lake