A mother has paid a heartfelt tribute to her son who died in Florida just weeks after moving stateside to fulfil his dream to become a pilot.
Former Putteridge High School student Tom Close, 20, was found in a building at Naples Municipal Airport at 8.30pm local time on May 11.
It is thought that the 20-year-old suffered a cardiac arrhythmia, though this has not yet been fully determined.
Tom had moved over to Naples earlier this month to start training as a commerical pilot, having already gained his private pilot licence in Cranfield at the age of 17.
Following the tragedy, Naples Air Centre posthumously honoured Tom with his wings.
Tom’s mother Joanne told the Luton News: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the tributes and memories his friends and family have shared with me.
“My son has touched so many lives for such a short life...fly high Tom.”
Tom’s uncle David Gardner added that it had always been Tom’s dream to become a pilot.
He said: “When he was young he used to sit on the floor and pretend to be a plane. He was always so dedicated to flying. I know for a fact that he would have aced this course. He was a very intelligent lad.
“From my standpoint he was a special lad, he was funny, spontaneous and was also such a gentleman.”
After news of Tom’s death reached friends back in Luton many met up at the Leicester Arms to raise a toast.
Mr Gardner said: “I went to the pub and saw how many people he had touched.
“Tom’s friends are a credit to him, they have been amazing.
“I want to say a personal thanks to them for being a rock to us.”
Close friend Robson O’Reardon met Tom on the Luton Town FC supporters coach en route to Wrexham in May 2011– just days after the pair had faced each other in a Sunday league game.
Robson said: “I recognised him and from there we just got talking, since then we have been really good friends.
“He will always be my best friend and if I had one word to sum him up it would be ‘amazing’.
“He achieved far more than most 20-year-olds and he was always there for me.”
Tom was a diehard Everton and Luton Town fan, and became well known to fellow supporters at Kenilworth Road.
Robson added: “Alot of people that knew Tom had only met him on the odd occasion at a game or elsewhere.
“There were well over 50 people at the Leicester Arms, a few had only met him once but knew how great a guy he was.
“He made an impact on so many people.”