Kyle Henn’s recent graduation from the University of Delaware was overshadowed by the senseless death of his brother Nathan, a humanitarian living in Uganda, at the hands of terrorists. He wanted to get to his parents home in North Carolina, to be with them and to attend his brother’s services. South Philadelphia native, Tom Pitts , a selfless-natured Marine retiree, who often used his single-engine Cirrus SR20 for missions of charity, along with his good friend, co-pilot, Jim Donahue volunteered to take Henn on the 300 mile trip. He had the skill-set, he had the plane, and he thought it was his duty as a Marine to help. On Monday July 12, the three flew out of Salisbury, Maryland into a partly cloudy sky with winds of less than 5 mph. But something went terribly wrong when they came in for a landing at Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Instead setting down, they wretchedly crashed into trees alongside the runway. Escaping with cuts and bruises, Kyle Henn tried to pull Pitts out of the cockpit but it was too late. Jim Donahue, a Camac Street resident, was still alive but the twisted wreckage wrenched his legs. It was 3:15 in the afternoon when medics pronounced Pitts dead and rushed Donahue to UNC Hospital for surgery. He may never walk again.
Both were my friends, but Pittsy was my good buddy. He had a wonderful approach toward life. Each breath was a Hallelujah for him. He saw the humor in everything and the sadness in nothing. He was irreverent and he was humble. His altruistic nature involved him in Toys For Tots, The Daddy Wags Run, Autism charities, Marine Corps volunteerism, veteran activism and fund-raising for the Purple Heart recipients. I could hug the man with outstretched arms, but it was impossible to hug his heart; it was that big.