ALPA Member Makes Ultimate Sacrifice for His Country

Mesa pilot remembered as an outstanding aviator

Capt. Patrick Leach (MAG) died in the line of duty December 9 while serving with the United States military in Iraq. The 39-year-old South Carolina Army National Guardsman was killed when the Apache helicopter he was piloting crashed at a refueling depot in Mosul. He was buried December 20 in Rockhill, S.C. with full military honors.

The Mesa Air Group ERJ captain, based in Charlotte, N.C., served as a Chief Warrant Officer 4th grade with A Company, First Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment. He was deployed to Iraq in October. Capt. Leach was a Gulf War veteran with 18 years of military service, six of which were in the U.S. Army. He received four Flying Medals and a Bronze Star for his service in both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

His military and airline careers were in keeping with his family’s proud service to their country and their love of the piloting profession. His father, Capt. Bruce Leach, served in the military as a naval aviator and later retired from United Airlines after 33 years of service. His son Carl is a crew chief in the Air Force Reserves, and holds a private pilot certificate for both gliders and single-engine airplanes.

"This is a family that really loves to fly," said Capt. Robert Henry, Mesa pilot group vice chairman. "In fact, after Patrick became a float plane instructor, his dad was his first student in float planes."

More than 150 people attended the graveside service, which included a 21-gun salute, a flag folding and presentation ceremony, and the playing of Taps. Three Apache helicopters over flew the cemetery in a missing man formation, with one helicopter out of position symbolizing a fallen soldier.

Another pilot, 1st Lieut. Andrew Shields, was also killed in the crash. The pilot’s twin brother, Philip Shields, an Apache pilot himself, attended Capt. Leach’s funeral.

"People wait too late to think of them as heroes," said Shields. "They were heroes when they left. And there are a lot more of them out there."

Capt. Leach started as a first officer on the Beech 1900 at Mesa in February 1998. He moved to the CRJ in October 1999. In 2001, he became a captain on the ERJ.

"He was an exceptional pilot and a great guy to fly with," said Capt. Henry. "I know that he absolutely adored his wife and children. This is a tremendous loss for them, as well as for our pilot group, and we’re doing what we can to help support them during this difficult period. "

Capt. Leach is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; his sons Miller, 8-months; Grafton, 2 ½; Brandon, 17; Carl, 19; and daughter Juliet, 4.

A memorial fund has been created to provide for the education of Capt. Leach’s children. Contributions may be made to:

Patrick Leach Memorial Trust Fund
Carolina First
Attention: Eddie Brown or Toni Helms
P. O. Box 12037
Rock Hill, S.C. 29731