Larry Lee Hillblom, one of the founders of DHL Worldwide Express, died Sunday in a plane crash in the South Pacific.

"Today is an incredibly sad day for DHL. We have lost a visionary in the international air express industry," said Patrick Foley, chairman and chief executive of DHL Airways Inc., Redwood City, Calif., the U.S. arm of DHL.Reuters news service reported that Mr. Hillblom's body had been recovered Monday from a remote island in the Northern Marianas.

Mr. Hillblom was piloting a plane carrying two other persons when it went into the ocean near the small island of Pagan, north of Guam, after encountering bad weather, said Dean Christon, a DHL spokesman.

The ship that recovered the bodies was bringing them to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Marianas.

Mr. Hillblom, the "H" in DHL, founded the company in San Francisco together with Adrian Dalsey and Robert Lynn shortly after graduating from law school at the University of California at Berkeley in 1969.

He had not been involved in the day-to-day management of the the company since moving to Saipan some 15 years ago, but played a major role in strategic planning, said Andy Ando, Japan Airlines' senior vice president and managing director for the Americas.

"He was one of my best friends," said Mr. Ando, who came to know Mr. Hillblom in 1988 when JAL was negotiating to buy a 5 percent stake in DHL. JAL and Lufthansa each increased their stake in DHL to 25 percent in June 1992.

Mr. Hillblom's death could hamper DHL's plan to set up an intra-Asia express operation based in Manila through an alliance with Continental Micronesia Airlines.

"I don't know how smoothly DHL can do it without him," Mr. Ando said Monday.

Continental Airlines owns 91 percent of Continental Micronesia, while the other 9 percent of its shares are held by United Micronesia Development Association, an investment company controlled by Mr. Hillblom.

"He was always thinking about new business for DHL," said Mr. Ando, who described Mr. Hillblom as a visionary, "full of curiosity and very intelligent."

Mr. Hillblom was also a partner in Air Partners Inc., which owns about 25 percent of Continental Airlines.

Mr. Ando said Mr. Hillblom had been very active in both the Philippines and

Vietnam, where he was involved in developing resorts. DHL officials last year had said they were also considering Vietnam as a site.

Mr. Hillblom, 52, had no family, according to Mr. Ando, who said he spoke frequently with the DHL founder. He was involved in another plane crash in August 1993.

Mr. Dalsey, another of the DHL founders, died last October. Mr. Lynn, the third founder, has not been active in the company for a long time, according to a DHL spokesman.

The company, which began 26 years ago by shuttling bills of lading between San Francisco and Hawaii, today employs some 35,000 people and handles more than 80 million shipments annually in 217 countries.