By S. Clayton Moore
In the wake of the midair collision that killed five people over a northwest Denver suburb in January, the first midair in the Denver area since 1974, family members and others affected by the crash have taken time to look back on the lives of those involved.
Leo “Lee” Larson and Fred Gregory White
On January 24, a twin-engine Piper Cheyenne II left Jefferson County Airport, heading for Centennial Airport. On board were two of the area’s better-known aviation personalities.
Leo “Lee” Larsen was a pilot, flight instructor and airplane broker, while Fred Gregory “Greg” White was known as one of the best Cheyenne mechanics in the country, according to friends and colleagues. It’s not known which of the two men were piloting the aircraft when it collided with a Cessna 172-P Skyhawk about 12 minutes later.
Larson, 57, had been in the business of selling planes for more than 32 years. He was known throughout the local aviation community as a highly trained and motivated pilot, as well as a stickler for safety and a straight shooter.
“He was as honest a guy as I think I’ve ever dealt with,” said colleague Ron Knudson of Willowbrook Air Associates, who knew both Larson and Greg White for more than 20 years.
Larson, who lived in Northglenn, sold insurance and medical equipment for years before he began brokering planes. At the time of the incident, his intent was to sell the 1975 Cheyenne, for $615,000. His son, Erik, said that he wasn’t sure if White was trying to buy the plane or simply assess its mechanical soundness.
Brokering airplanes isn’t easy, but Larson made his way in the field. His family and friends threw a two-year survival party at his home when he was sure his new venture was going to make it.
Larson was certified as both a flight and ground instructor and carried a commercial license. However, he did enjoy playing a joke on potential students by sitting back in his pilot’s seat, headset cocked, holding a book titled, “How To Fly.”
The pro was used to dealing with emergencies, too, having once successfully landed a Beech aircraft in Montana, despite the fact that the landing gear collapsed when he hit the runway.
Larson’s passions, besides flying, included fishing and muscle cars, especially Buicks. At his hangar at Jeffco, father and son spent a lot of time side-by-side working on one car or another. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing and would return from flights—going everywhere from Kansas to Canada—with salmon and northern pike for friends.
Described as extremely friendly, Larson never hesitated to help those in need and will be missed in the aviation community.
Larson’s friend and colleague, Greg White, 51, was totally in his element around the Piper Cheyenne, according to John DeBrouwer, owner of Centennial Airport-based Aero Aesthetics Aircraft Detailing and a friend of six years.
“He had a ‘niche’ talent and a stubbornness that made it almost impossible for him to work for someone else, but his abilities and drive really insured his success,” he said. “The perfection he demanded of his work kept him entirely focused on the work at hand.”
Raised in Lansing, Mich., White went on to build his own maintenance shop, Greg White Aircraft Services, in Broomfield. At his memorial, his friend Glenn Jones recalled White’s simple view of his work through the phrase, “Well, it ain’t the space shuttle; it ain’t going to the moon.”
A resident of Westminster, White also did his share of mentoring, including giving guidance to April and Chrissy Baker, daughters of Karen Baker, a former girlfriend. Friends said he was as conscientious about helping them as he was about the airworthiness of the aircraft on which he worked.
Knudson and DeBrouwer agreed that White would have been the man to look for if they were in the market for a Piper Cheyenne.
“His perspective and zest for life was always both entertaining and thought provoking,” said DeBrouwer of the man with whom he had shared many trips, including fishing expeditions to Alaska that included Larson. “No better match between man and machine could possibly exist than that between Greg White and the Piper Cheyenne. For him to die in a Cheyenne, no matter how tragic or ironic it is, it’s still fitting. The Cheyenne was his plane. All those Cheyennes will miss him. We’ll miss him.”
“The value of a life is not measured in its length; it is measured by its intensity,” the Reverend John Gaudreau said at the memorial for Jonathan Ross Ladd.
Jonathan Ladd, 20, who lived in Littleton, had wanted to fly since he was four years old. Even at his young age, he had already achieved his longtime dream. Even his job, as a member of a computer support team for Lockheed Martin, foretold his talent for flight.
Ladd received his private pilots license last June and loved to fly, according to staff at the Wings of Denver Flying Club, at Centennial Airport, where he had trained. He was known to enjoy night flying, despite his required glasses, and often made day trips across the state just to have lunch.
On January 24, he rented a Cessna 172-P Skyhawk from Key Lime Air, at Centennial. He left the airport with friends Isaac Murrow, 22, and Curt Maxey, 22, en route to Cheyenne, Wyo., where they planned to buy some clothes for the National Western Stock Show, as well as to meet up with new friends they had met on a vacation in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.
Ladd, who also had a talent in the computer realm, had survived an earlier disaster. A 2000 graduate of Columbine High School, he had been present the day of the infamous shootings and bravely told television viewers, live, what was happening in the school.
By the morning after the crash, the site where his aircraft fell had become an impromptu memorial, visited by family and friends, as well as strangers. While expressing their thoughts, his family confirmed Ladd’s aviation skills, saying, “John was careful and proud of his piloting skills.”
Ladd’s legacy is best preserved in his own motto, “Why save money when you can fly?”
Curt Maxey and Isaac Murrow
The quick hop in the Cessna was a common adventure for the trio, even though Isaac Murrow, a Granby resident, hated to fly.
Murrow’s family said he “firmly lived by his Christian principles,” and was a terrific son and a good friend. Besides that, he was a man with a work ethic. He started working with his father, a carpet-laying contractor, at the age of 12, working hard at the physical work and proving his reliability.
Curt Maxey, 22, combined a need for excitement and high-speed thrills with a deep and abiding sense of responsibility, based in the loss of his father at a young age and the subsequent care for his mother.
“Curt had a sense of adventure,” said his mother, Becky Carlson. “If someone said, ‘Let’s try it,’ he would do it and do it well.”
Maxey, who lived in Littleton, enjoyed many high-action activities, including horseback riding, mountain climbing, motorcycles and windsurfing. He started flying remote-controlled aircraft just as Ladd was learning to fly real planes.
He had a close call a few years ago when he mistook a speeding train for a parked one and managed to destroy his pickup truck, but walked away with only minor injuries.
Of the accident that took his life, his mother said it was unfortunate, as well as confusing.
“I don’t know why it happened,” said Carlson. “We never will. It’s a horrible, horrible thing, because you have questions and they never get answered. Only God knows.”
A Helping Hand
Curt Maxey’s family has established a memorial fund. Contributions may be sent to P.O. Box 83, Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451. Also, the family of Jonathan Ladd has established the Jonathan Ladd Memorial Fund. Donations can be made to any US Bank in Colorado to account no. 103658584448.
Other funds have been established to help northwest Denver residents displaced by the plane crashes. Wells Fargo Bank continues to collect money for those displaced or who suffered property loss or damage. Any Wells Fargo Bank will accept the donations, made out to the Highlands Catastrophe Fund, Account No. 9768712409. Area residents have established the Jan. 24 Relief Fund. Donations may be sent to Commercial Federal Bank, 3460 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO 80211.