Local News

Pilot's death adds to Uganda bombing tragedy

Posted July 13, 2010 7:04 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2010 4:34 p.m. EDT

— A retired Xerox executive and amateur pilot rarely turned down a request to fly a wounded soldier to a hospital appointment or a beach vacation, so it fit his altruistic nature to ferry the brother of a terrorist bombing victim 300 miles to grieve with his parents.

But the flight added a tragic epilogue to the Uganda terrorism bombings when the single-engine plane crashed at Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill on Monday, killing the pilot and injuring the brother and another occupant.

Retired Xerox Corp. service manager Thomas F. Pitts, 65, of Wilmington, Del., often used his single-engine Cirrus SR20 for charity missions, including flying wounded soldiers to and from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, said longtime friend Kevin Reilly.

"He just thought it was his duty as a former Marine, and he had the skill set and he had the plane to get them there, and I just don't know - outside of bad weather - that he ever turned anybody down," Reilly said.

So when Pitts was asked Monday to help recent University of Delaware graduate Kyle Henn get from Delaware to his parents' home in Raleigh, Pitts agreed, Reilly said. The Henn family was reeling from the death Sunday of Kyle's older brother Nathan, a 25-year-old humanitarian worker among 76 people killed in a pair of terrorist bombings in Kampala, Uganda.

Pitts routinely made such flights, at no charge.

"He was trying to alleviate this brother having to book a commercial flight. He thought he could fly him to the family quicker," Reilly said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Monday's crash, which occurred during a landing attempt at the airport. The airport reopened on Wednesday.

Kyle Henn, 22, was in fair condition Tuesday at UNC Hospitals. Co-pilot James Donahue was in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said.

The Henn family released a statement Tuesday evening, saying, "Our family is grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have experienced over the last twenty-four hours, both for Nathan and for Kyle. We would like to thank the community at Invisible Children for their support and for being a family to Nate, as well."

Nate Henn had spent the last year traveling to campuses and churches to raise money and seek volunteers for work in Uganda. His family said people can make a donation to Invisible Children in his honor.