Friends and family will say good bye to a beloved friend Friday, as they lay to rest Stephen P. “Butch” Freeman.

Freeman, 39, died Jan. 25 when the small, military-style jet he was piloting crashed into a mobile home park in Ketchikan, Alaska.

He left behind a wife, Sherry, and two children, Hannah Claire, 3, and Stephen Nicholas, 1.

According to The Associated Press, the plane hit one trailer, triggering a fire. No one was home at the time and all residents had been accounted for.

Searchers found Freeman’s body across a ravine from the crash. No one else was aboard the plane. Witnesses said Freeman ejected from the plane too late, so he could steer the aircraft away from an area that would result in a massive loss of life.

He sacrificed his life, they said, to save people on the ground.

To many people, Freeman is a hero. David Leppelmeier considers himself fortunate to call Freeman his friend.

“Butch had a knack for cultivating relationships, not just being casual friends with anybody,” Leppelmeier said. “He was a great friend.”

Leppelmeier said he never had as much fun around anybody as he had with Freeman. He said they loved to go sailing, attend football and baseball games and go to Jimmy Buffett concerts.

While Freeman always took his friendships seriously, he treated life a bit differently. Leppelmeier said Freeman was always cracking jokes when they were getting ready to fly ,and he never missed the opportunity for a good practical joke.

“I remember when I met him, he came by my house and he heard that I was a Santa Claus at a local hospital and said, ‘Hey, can I borrow your Santa Claus outfit?’” Leppelmeier said. “He got in the back seat of a two-seat F-18. He got in over by base ops and they taxied the plane around over to the hangar. He climbed out of the plane dressed like Santa Claus for the squadron party at the hangar.”

At Freeman’s funeral service Friday, Leppelmeier and Freeman’s brother, Ernest, will be giving eulogies. When it comes time to talk about Freeman, he said all he can do is tell some of his favorite stories of his best friends and show people how much his life was touched by him.

“I’m just putting together a bunch of Butch stories,” Leppelmeier said. “He was everybody’s friend. If you were broke down and needed your car towed, he was the guy you called. He was the guy who if anybody couldn’t make a flight, he would take it. He flew more hours than anybody. He just loved to fly.”

Freeman’s funeral service will begin at 2 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church. Afterward, family and friends will be gathering at The Junction to greet one another and talk about the man who was a best friend to so many people.

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