Ariz. Sheriff's Chopper Pilot Killed in Crash

TUCSON, Ariz. --

Pima County Sheriff’s Department civilian pilot Loren Leonberger was killed when a Sheriff's helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain near Tucson.

He leaves behind a wife and twelve siblings.

Leonberger was a helicopter pilot for more than 40 years, including service as a pilot in Vietnam in the 1970s. He achieved the rank of Warrant Officer in the Army.

In July 1978, Loenberger became an officer and a pilot with the AZ Department of Public Safety where he served for 20 years. Leonberger continued to serve as a pilot in the U.S. Army National Guard from January 1972 until November 1991.

Loenberger retired in December 1998 from the DPS Air Rescue Unit. He became a pilot with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in 1998 where he was employed until he joined the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in November 2008.

Three other people were on board the helicopter when it crashed. Two of them managed to get out of on their own. Crews rescued the third person.

Authorities say one of the survivors is hospitalized in critical condition and the other two are in serious condition. Their names haven't been released and sheriff's officials won't immediately say if all four people aboard the copter were department employees.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office said the helicopter crashed near Avral Valley and Watterman Mountain roads.

Authorities say the Hughes 500 helicopter went down around 11 a.m. as the four-person crew was scouting an area in the Ironwood National Forest for possible locations for radio communications towers.

It still unclear whether all four people aboard are sheriff's department employees.

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