News

Army pilot with Federal Way ties dies in Iraq

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Army Warrant Officer Patrick Leach, who grew up in Federal Way, was killed last week in Iraq when the Apache helicopter he was piloting collided with a Black Hawk on an airfield in Mosul after returning from a mission.

He was 39.

Patrick is survived by his wife, a 4-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 2 and 7 months, in Rock Hill, S.C., two more sons, Carl and Brandon, 19 and 17, in Federal Way; his parents, Grace and Bruce, of Tacoma; and his brother, Bruce Leach, Jr., of Vancouver.

His sister,, Penny, died of a heart defect in 1977, when she was 13.

Leach was a wrestler at Thomas Jefferson High School, where he excelled at math and science and graduated with honors in 1983.

“He thought he might want to be an engineer, but he just loved flying so much,” his mother, Grace, said Monday.

Bruce Sr., was a Navy and civilian pilot. “It just goes with the territory,” she said.

Leach also loved working on cars. Ford Mustangs were his favorite.

“He was very good as a craftsman, very good as a mechanic,” Grace said. “His friends would bring their cars over.”

She said her son was athletic and adventurous and didn’t believe there was anything he couldn’t do. He was a ski instructor at Crystal Mountain and flew gliders when he was a young teenager. He was an open-water diver and, after joining the Army, he raced mountain bikes in Germany.

“He instilled that fun-loving, adventuresome spirit into the boys,” Grace said.

Carl Leach, 19, is finishing an Air Force program at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma before starting college at Central Washington University next quarter. “His ambition is to be a flyer like his father,” Grace said, adding that Carl already has his a pilot’s license. “He flies gliders like you wouldn’t believe.”

Brandon Leach, 17, a senior at Decatur High School, mountain bikes and snowboards. “He gets air sick and sea sick,” Grace said, explaining, with a soft laugh, why Brandon doesn’t fly.

After graduating from high school, Patrick went to the University of Washington for 18 months, but graduated from Emory Riddle Aeronautical University. He joined the Army in 1986 because “he wanted to fly the Apache from the beginning,” Grace said.

He was transferred to Germany, where his unit was one of the first deployed to the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm.

After the war, Leach returned home, joined the Washington National Guard and took a job with a private helicopter company that cleaned power lines. In 1997, he moved to South Carolina, where he joined the South Carolina guard to fly the Apache again.

In 1998, he began piloting Mesa Airlines commercial flights. By the time his guard unit was deployed last June, he was a senior captain. Leach left for Iraq in October.

Grace said they’re still not sure what happened last week in Mosul. Her son and his crew had just completed a mission and were preparing to land when the Apache collided with the Black Hawk on the ground.

“We just don’t know what the cause was,” Grace said. “Pat was one of their best pilots. There’s no way, unless something happened. It’s just so heartbreaking. I just can’t believe it.” Lt. Andrew Shields also died in the crash. Shields was a member of the South Carolina National Guard and a close friend of Leach’s.

Leach would have had his 20 years in 18 months, about the time he was expecting to be sent home from Iraq.

Grace said her son made deep, lasting impressions on the people whose lives he crossed. “No matter where he went, his friendships were so strong,” she said. “Wherever he goes, he just builds these friendships. His unit in Rock Hill all want to go to Dover (Delaware) and bring his remains to Rock Hill to bury him there.”

That her grandsons are as athletic and adventuresome as her son is bittersweet now for Grace. “It’s a sad way for it all to come around,” she said. “We just loved him a lot.”

A memorial for Patrick Leach has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Vincent de Paul church in Federal Way. Immediately afterward, his parents and sons will leave for Rock Hill, where Patrick will be buried.

A trust fund has been established to help care for Leach’s children. His family in Federal Way also is asking that, in lieu of flowers, people attending the memorial who want to give something can provide a donation to renovate Penny’s Park, the children’s play area at St. Vincent’s built 28 years ago in memory of Leach’s sister.

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