Spirits of adventure: Pair killed in crash of 'flying boat' lived life to the fullest
Wade Spees // The Post and Courier
“Very sad thing that happened — a very nice guy,” said “Fish Daddy” (center-right, in visor), one of the regulars at the Isle of Palms Marina who was there when Lucas Smith and Carly Donohue were brought there after the accident.
He was an old-school boat captain and businessman who squeezed adventure out of every living minute. She was a charming free spirit from Kentucky along for the ride.
Together, Lucas Smith and Cara Lee Donohue, known by her friends as Carly, soared high above the waves Wednesday in a device best described as a flying boat -- a rubber raft connected to an engine and a parasail.
Some seasoned pilots said they wouldn't dare strap into a similar light-sport aircraft, but Smith had flown it around Mount Pleasant and his hometown of Sullivan's Island for a decade or more without so much as a scratch, sometimes taking tourists to the top of the Morris Island Lighthouse just for the fun of it.
"He was about as experienced with that thing as you can be," friend and harbor pilot John Thomas said.
But something went wrong Wednesday. Witnesses said the aircraft plummeted into the ocean between Dewees Island and the Isle of Palms at 6:19 p.m. Rescuers pulled them from the wrecked aircraft and rushed them to the Isle of Palms Marina.
Smith, a 40-year-old father of two, and Donohue, his 27-year-old first mate, were pronounced dead at the scene.
"All I can guess is it was a catastrophic failure of some kind," friend and business partner Chris McIntire said.
The Federal Aviation Administration spent much of the day Thursday investigating the cause of the crash, but a final determination could take months, if not longer.
An FAA spokeswoman said the aircraft should have been registered with the federal agency and subject to inspections by airworthiness inspectors, but was not. There also is no record that Smith had the sport pilot certificate required to fly the aircraft.
Daring but not careless
The news surprised friends, who said Smith lived life to the extreme but wasn't reckless.
As captain of his beloved Osprey, a popular charter boat Smith bought on eBay and worked on for three years, he made each trip feel as safe and fun as possible, Thomas said.
"I would trust Lucas with my life, hands down, on the water," Thomas said. "He was always extremely professional. Always safety first."
Thomas and McIntire said Smith was one of the finest boat captains they've ever seen, and told about how he could essentially parallel park a 75-foot Hatteras in gale-force winds without blinking an eye.
Thomas said Smith had old-school skills.
"People don't realize how good he was at what he did and how much he loved life," Thomas said. "He definitely enjoyed every bit of it."
A dream come true
Smith, McIntire said, definitely ran on all cylinders, captaining charter boats and operating his dry-clean business.
"He lived with his hair on fire," McIntire said. "He was the type of guy to buy the first round. To lose him and Carly is beyond words."
Smith had wanted to charter his own boat ever since he got his captain's license. Just over three years ago his dream came true when he found the boat on eBay for $3,500.
"I suggested he sell it for scrap," McIntire said. "But he loved that boat."
He rechristened the boat Osprey and went to work.
"He put his life into that boat," Thomas said.
Through word of mouth, the Osprey quickly became a popular charter boat. A host and 48 of his or her closest friends could be treated to a two-hour harbor cruise, captained by Smith and his crew.
From cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to a full-blown oyster roast, guests could design their harbor tour to fit their needs.
The boat's popularity grew. More and more trips were being booked. Despite the fact that everyone on his crew knew how to operate that boat, it was always Smith behind the wheel.
Charm and grace
The work was time-consuming, and after two years Smith hired a young Donohue. She was originally from Kentucky but could crew on any size or type boat.
She not only came on as a crew member of the Osprey but also took over the marketing as well. On harbor cruises, she served as a bartender for the guests.
Jose Hernandez, a longtime friend of Donohue and Smith, said he was happy Donohue found Smith.
"She was willing to not only be there for each trip but to take the boat's success to the next level," he said.
Chad Shores, owner of FINZ, said he knew Donohue well.
"She was just a fun girl. She was a free spirit and had a great outlook on life," Shores said. "She was very uplifting and everybody liked her. She just made you happy and put you in a good mood."
Their deaths cast a pall over the boating community Thursday. The Charleston City Marina flew its flag at half-staff in their memory.
Eddie Taylor, a friend of Smith for 25 years, said he will remember him as living life to the fullest.
"We had some fun times and took many road trips. One time on the way back from a ski trip he got three speeding tickets from North Carolina to Charleston. He lived on the edge," Taylor said. "If he was looking down he would say he died a happy man, doing what he loved to do."