“He wouldn't have wanted to be doing it any other way," his son Andy Knight said Wednesday. "He was doing what he loved."
His family said Wednesday he’d logged more than 25,000 hours in the air.
Knight, 72, was born on Long Island and earned an aeronautical engineering degree in New York state, then moved to South Florida in 1966 to earn additional aviation degrees, his family said.
Starting as a student pilot in 1966, he also has been a corporate and charter pilot, a flight instructor and the owner of a maintenance complex, flying in "just about every type of aircraft in every type of flying there is,” his two sons wrote in 2005 when they placed him to the "Wall of Honor” at the newly opened Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum northwest of Washington, D.C.
"But the most notable part of his career has been his love for flight instruction. He has trained students from all over the world,” the posting said.
Knight most recently was a designated examiner for pilot licenses and was approved to do tests for the Federal Aviation Administration’s South Florida Flight Standards District Office.
“He had a very calming presence, especially up in the air,” Max Franko, a student who’s flown with Knight, said Wednesday at the Lantana airport.
Eddie Obssuth, an instructor at Palm Beach Flight Training at the Lantana complex, said Knight “was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Definitely a pillar in the aviation industry.”
Knight is survived by his wife Monica; sons Ralph Jr. (Bill) of Ashburn, Va., and Andrew, of Kenmore, Wash.; and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday, his sons said.
Miami-Dade police said several agencies got calls about the crash at about 1 p.m. Tuesday. Searchers spotted the wreckage just south of the Tamiami Trail, about 7 miles west of Krome Avenue and about 25 miles west of downtown Miami.
Police said Knight was riding with pilot Nisha Sejwal, 19, of western Miami-Dade County, who was doing a "flight check."
In the second plane, Jorge Sanchez, 22, of Homestead was a pilot-instructor flying with Carlos Alfredo Zanetti Scarpati, 22, also of western Miami-Dade. Police could not confirm which of the two was flying that aircraft.
Searchers originally found just three people but returned Wednesday at first light and found the body of Scarpati, the only one who was a student, authorities said.
The two planes were a 1979 single-engine Cessna and a 1973 multi-engine Piper PA-34-200. Police have not said who was in which plane.
The planes were registered to Dean International, a suburban Miami flight school.
Knight had an agreement to do “check rides” for students at Dean and several other area flight schools, including in Lantana, Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens, his son said.
Dean officials did not return a voicemail message Wednesday. The school's webpage said it's educated more than 7,000 pilots from all over the world, including more than 1,000 students from India.