Two of three crash survivors leave hospital, Pilot praised by friends for quiet bravery

Posted: Updated:

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Two of the three people who survived Monday's crash are out of the hospital, 58-year-old Edwin Nettleton and 41-year-old Paul Panzica.


Larry Sayers, 64, is still there in serious condition.

Panzica and Sayers are county workers in the IT department.  Nettleton is a consultant with an architecture and building company.

Pima County Sheriff's civilian pilot Loren Leonberger died in the crash.

According to his friends, he died doing what he loved.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona praised Leonberger's commitment and talent.

"I mean this is a guy who lived through tours in Vietnam, who flew medevac helicopters saved hundreds of troops who've been injured he knew what risk was," said Carmona.

Deputy sheriff Richard Carmona calls him one of the best and one of the safest.

"We placed our lives in his hands many times like that time and we never doubted it."

Carmona has performed hundreds of rescue missions with friend and pilot Loren Leonberger at the controls.

It's his belief Leonberger used his last moments to save his passengers as the sheriff's chopper went down Monday morning.

"It looks like what he did was to put it down hard on his side and he saved the three other people we all said that's Loren, he sacrificed himself," said Carmona.

Leonberger began his long career in the sky while serving in Vietnam. Later he would put in 20 years flying for the department of Public Safety and then the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

"He would say, 'Ah no, it was all Rich and Tom and Al.  All i did was show up.  I just drove the taxi,'" said Carmona.

Modest and mild mannered.  Carmona says his friend had some quirks.

"You know when he spoke, he didn't speak that much, so it was important.  So, you better figure out what he was saying," said Carmona.  "The other thing was his hair would never get messed up in his helmet so we'd joke about that, that somehow he had some kind of perm."

The hero aviator had another passion, cooking.  Carmona says Leonberger liked to drop by with goodies, and even surprised Carmona's daughter, a nurse in Phoenix.

"The clerk came back and said there's an old guy out here with cookies and food for you and we're afraid maybe we should call the police.  And she peeked out and said, 'Oh that's Loren. He's like my other dad.  Don't worry about it,'" said Carmona.

He will likely leave a legacy of skill and bravery. 

Carmona says now everyone will know Leonberger the way he knew him, as a quiet guy doing every day miracles.

"It's unfortunate that people didn't get to know him sooner," said Carmona.

Leonberger leaves behind a wife and 12 siblings.