Hundreds gather to celebrate life of Flight for Life pilot Patrick Mahany
Hundreds of American flags dotted the Dillon Amphitheatre as Patrick Mahany’s loved ones and coworkers gathered on Friday morning to celebrate his life. Mahany, a longtime Flight For Life pilot and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was also remembered as a father, a husband, a soccer coach, and a mentor to many.
Mahany died at age 64, when his helicopter, Lifeguard 2, crashed near Frisco’s St. Anthony Summit Medical Center on July 3. Flight nurses Dave Repsher and Matt Bowe survived the crash, and are being treated in Denver. Father Michael Glenn said that Mahany’s wife, Karen, rushed to the hospital just moments after the crash.
“Drawn from the wreckage of the helicopter, he lay long enough there to be loved on by his wife,” Glenn said. “And God made sure in the last moments of his life, that Karen and his friends could be there to care for him and to care for others. He did die doing what he loved, and with the ones he loved.”
Mahany had flown with Flight For Life Colorado since 1987, caring for his flight crew as he would his family. With his skill as a helicopter pilot, not only did Mahany save thousands of lives, but he also helped Flight For Life come up with a plan for avalanche rescues, and co-authored a “Helicopters in Mountain Rescue Operations” manual.
Growing up on his family’s farm in New York, Mahany joined the Army in college, serving as a scout pilot while he was deployed in Vietnam. Mahany’s helicopter was shot down three times as he flew ahead of the others, and he was awarded a purple heart and a bronze star upon his return.
“There are many flags here today, all over this place. It’s a reminder to us that Patrick was a very patriotic man who loved his country,” Glenn said. “Patrick showed his love in action. How many people, flying in the back of his helicopter with life-threatening injuries, did not feel profoundly loved and immense gratitude that they were being rushed by him to the best of medical care?”
During the service, Karen Mahany’s brother, Lt. Col. Kevin Tullberg, read from 1 Corinthians 13, the verse that was chosen for her and Patrick’s wedding.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. … It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
“May God lift up his soul from death, and give Patrick Mahany the best flight of his whole life,” Glenn concluded.
A HEART OF GOLD
While serious in his life-saving duties, Mahany was always known for loving a good joke and having a smile on his face.
Bob Shedd, a fellow Vietnam veteran and a former Summit County Ambulance paramedic, said he had known Mahany since he started flying in Summit County in 1987.
“You couldn’t miss him. He always had a smile,” Shedd said. “On more than one occasion, we would get ejected from the ER for laughing too loud. That was just Pat.”
In her eulogy that morning, Flight For Life program director Kathy Mayer said Mahany loved jokes more than anyone she had ever known.
“If the joke included references to Catholics, or Irishmen, or best of all Catholic Irishmen, it was his favorite joke,” Mayer laughed. “From day one, he was gregarious, noisy, cheerful and rambunctious.”
His many quips came to be known as “Mahany-isms,” that he would share frequently with both friends and strangers. Mayer added that while he jokingly called himself the “resort pilot,” there is no other pilot they would rather be with on a rescue flight.
“He was part of saving so many lives in his 27 years with Flight For Life that it seems utterly wrong that he lost his own in the cockpit of the helicopter that was his workplace, his stage and often, his sanctuary,” Mayer said.
“He was a wild man with a heart of gold,” his granddaughter, McKenzie Nordine said, teary-eyed. She recounted a ski trip with Mahany, where her ski was caught going up A-Basin’s Pallavicini lift.
“Grandpa had to let me go; I couldn’t ride up the lift like that. But he jumped with me. Like I said, he never let me go,” Nordine said. “I loved him dearly. And now it’s our turn to never let him go.”
An avid Broncos fan, Mahany bled orange, but also out of his dedication to Flight For Life. Even as his family planned to move out of the state, Mayer said Mahany insisted on helping respond to noise complaints, a task he handled with his charm and wit.
In an email written to Mayer just weeks before the crash, Mahany wrote, “It will be a small way that I can remain connected to the one program that I love. You are and always will be held very close in my heart. Please allow me to remain a tiny part of Flight For Life.”
Crying, Mayer added, “Well Patrick, you did have to give that up and we have to give you up, far too suddenly and far too soon, but you are never a tiny piece of Flight For Life. You were close to the heart and soul of our program, of our laughter and of our commitment to this difficult and rewarding work. We miss you dearly and fiercely and we will feel the loss of you for a long, long time.”
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FATHER AND SON
Mahany’s son, Ryan, stepped forward last, to thank those who aided Patrick Mahany in his final moments. He expressed gratitude to the First Responders, ER doctors, and family and friends who were present the afternoon of July 3, when Patrick Mahany was recovered from the burning aircraft.
“It is a fact that from the moment dad died until this very moment today, he has never been alone. For all that, my family – my family is in your debt forever,” Ryan Mahany leaned on the support of his wife as he spoke.
He added that in a recent hospital visit, the doctors told him that they were optimistic that flight nurse Matt Bowe will make a full recovery. He also visited flight nurse and paramedic Dave Repsher, who remains in critical condition.
“Dave, as we speak, is fighting for his life,” Ryan Mahany said. “I was fortunate to be around to see Dave after he had been brought back from surgery and whispered in his ear — I whispered in his ear that dad loved him, and to keep fighting.”
He added that his father “… was dedicated to the program, and I believe in my heart, that he died trying to save the lives of Matt and Dave.”
Growing up, both Ryan Mahany and his friends looked up to his father as a role model. Following in his father’s footsteps, Ryan Mahany joined the U.S. Army, and was awarded an Army Medal of Valor in 2009 for rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter while deployed in Afghanistan. His unit is preparing for another mission to follow.
Ryan Mahany turned to address the sea of blue-clad Flight For Life pilots at the front of the amphitheater.
“I am struck by the fact that many of you know a lot about me and about my life,” he laughed. “Many of you have touched my soul by telling me how proud he was of me. Well let me tell you this — I was more proud of him.
“And I will spend the rest of my life honoring his memory,” he added, weeping.
An American flag was unfolded, and draped over Patrick Mahany’s coffin, to an audience of hundreds of uniformed salutes. Three sets of seven gunshots punctured the silence, followed by the somber notes of taps.
To conclude the ceremony, two Flight For Life helicopters flew over the amphitheater, circling around the mountains as the American flag flapped in the wind.
As their propellers thrummed in the background, Mahany’s last radio call was read:
“Lifeguard 2, this is the coms center. Patrick Mahany, you may stand down. End of the watch. Coms center clear. Time now, 12:04.”
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