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Utahn killed in Peru helicopter crash was living his dream

Published January 8, 2013 6:10 pm

Tragedy • Santaquin man who died in copter crash dreamed as a boy of being a pilot like Dad.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Leon "Lee" Bradford grew up around helicopters. The youngest of three boys in a military family, Bradford often dreamed of the day he could be a helicopter pilot like his father, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam.

The 44-year-old Bradford of Santaquin was a load manager for a chopper contracted for petroleum exploration in Peru, died along with six other men Monday after the craft went down minutes after taking off from an airport near the provincial capital of Pucallpa.

Bradford, a junior bull rider by the age of 8 and an avid hunter and fisherman, lived for adventure and died doing what he loved, his mother said Tuesday.

"He always liked adventure," Joanne Bradford said.

Bradford was named after his father but has been known as Lee since he was a baby. His late father, Leon Bradford Sr., moved often with the family while Bradford was growing up. They eventually settled in Payson where Bradford finished school.

Bradford was a hard worker who tried a few career paths after school but eventually followed his brothers to work for a private helicopter company based out of Provo.

"He tried other things, but he always went back to that," Joanne Bradford said.

After that company went under, Bradford and his brother Scott began working for Columbia Helicopters, the Oregon-based company which owned the Chinook BH-234 that crashed Monday. According to Joanne Bradford, her son's body may not come home for several weeks, which makes planning a funeral difficult.

Bradford's job as a load manager meant he worked on sites around the world for 28 days followed by 28 days off that he could spend with his family.

Bradford was twice married and had three children and three stepchildren. In November, he became a grandfather.

Before he started working in Peru, Bradford worked on similar jobs in such places as Ecuador and Indonesia, Joanne Bradford said.

But even when Bradford was home, "He was always working," according to his mother. He often visited his 93-year-old grandmother to give her a hand. During the winter, Bradford was often the first one in the neighborhood to shovel the walks — his own and those of his neighbors.

Bradford was one of five Americans killed in the crash. Two Peruvian crew members also perished.

Columbia Helicopter officials said they had no immediate information on what might have caused the crash. Todd Peterson, the company's vice president of marketing, said a senior management team was headed to Peru to assist local authorities in the investigation.

He denied reports in local media suggesting the craft was too heavy.

"I can say categorically that the aircraft was not overloaded," Peterson said.

The helicopter was contracted by Canada-based Talisman Energy Inc.

kbennion@sltrib.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.