A FORMER journalist and RAF serviceman who learned to fly and tracked down drug smugglers has died, aged 76.

Mike Irish, who moved to Bury with his family from Leeds aged 12 worked for the Bury Times and The Bolton News before moving to Florida.

He was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer several years ago and died on October 22 during a course of chemotherapy.

Loved ones paid tribute to Mr Irish as a "flamboyant adventurer" who loved life.

His half-brother, Chris Thompson, aged 62, of Tottington, said: "He liked his ladies and he was never shy of taking a risk. He lived a full and active life."

Mr Irish attended the now-defunct Bury High School and joined the Bury Times as a junior reporter aged 16.

Two years later, he was called up for national service and served in the RAF in Anglesey.

"That seems to have given him a love of the air and, a few years later, Mike earned his light-aircraft pilot's licence and we went flying out over Blackpool once," said Mr Thompson.

He added: "When he moved to Florida, he would volunteer with the coastguard and would fly over the coastline at weekends, looking for drug smugglers off the Miami coast."

After spells at The Bolton News and the now-closed Manchester Evening Chronicle and a time living in Sale, Mr Irish received an offer he could not refused from across the Atlantic.

The National Enquirer tabloid news magazine offered him a role and he moved to Florida with his new wife, Christine, and his two young children, Sarah and Paul.

During his time in the US, Mr Irish delved into the property market and eventually set up his own real estate company, cleverly titled Irish Realty.

"The company was successful in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and Mike was able to make money from property while continuing occasional journalism work," said Mr Thompson.

He added: "He eventually went part time, but worked right up until last year."

Mr Irish went onto marry his second wife, Gloria.

He also leaves Mr Thompson, half-sister Liz Simpson and children and Paul.

His funeral is due to take place in Delray Beach, Florida on Monday.