Pilot, city activist Musarra dies at 52

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Larry Musarra, a lifesaving pilot, respected community activist and director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, has died in Washington state after a battle with cancer. He was 52.

Friends and family said Musarra left his mark on Juneau in the dozen years he lived in the community. Part of his legacy is the underwater recreation park in Auke Bay.

Musarra died Saturday at his mother-in-law's house in Tacoma, Wash., due to complications from soft tissue sarcoma.

Musarra ended his harrowing career as a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard 12 years ago to take a desk job in Juneau just for the chance to return to Alaska, said his wife, Lenné Musarra.

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"As a wife, I didn't hear about those stories unless we were at a Coast Guard party," she said. "It wasn't like he brought those stories home."

Lenné said her husband was modest about the many lives he helped save in his 19 years of flying for the Coast Guard. Musarra didn't dwell on risky adventures at home because he could easily be called out to fly in a storm the very next day, she said.

"It was pretty scary stuff that they were doing out there," she said.

"If you're a Coast Guard pilot you go out in the worst of weather and fly some dangerous missions, no matter where you are stationed," said Rick Janelle, who was stationed with Musarra in Juneau.

Ironically, Musarra was placed on a commercial airliner "no-fly" list by federal authorities shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It was actually quite humorous," Janelle said. "Because of his last name he was on that secret list somehow, and I don't think he ever got off it."

Musarra was diagnosed with cancer in the fall and had been undergoing chemotherapy. Doctors determined the cancer was inoperable, and Musarra spent his final three weeks with friends and family.

Friends were shocked that Musarra, a tough and experienced outdoorsman, was unable to recover from his illness, co-worker and friend Laurie Craig said.

"He was a superman, and if anyone could beat this kind of tough diagnosis it was him," she said. "So in that way it was very much a shock."

Musarra left an indelible mark at the glacier center, making sure tourists and locals alike always felt welcome, Craig said.

"He set a pattern of public service," she said. "We always felt that our doors were to be open when anybody knocked."

Musarra also left his mark on the sea floor near Juneau, where he spent a great deal of time scuba diving, Craig said. He was instrumental in helping organize and establish the artificial reef diving park off the Auke Village Recreation Area.

"That was a driving passion, to get that going and get it established," his wife said. "Larry was really great about pulling people into those kind of things."

Safety was a driving force in everything he did, she said. Whether flying airplanes, kayaking, leading ski or mountain climbing trips, Musarra could always be counted to take care of logistics and safety, Lenné said.

"This whole aspect of safety was what really drove him in all the sports and anything he ever did," she said. "I think he was a really valued leader by a lot of people in Juneau."

He is survived by his wife and their three sons: Aren, 22, Sungie, 19, and Tim, 16.

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