PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – An investigation is underway after a veteran American Airlines pilot from Southlake fell from a 12th floor balcony of a Panama City Beach hotel.

Authorities say Thomas H. Saunders, 62, was chaperoning his daughter and some of her friends staying at the Holiday Inn Resort. He fell Wednesday onto the hotel lobby’s roof.

“It’s a shock to everybody,” says close family friend Greg Piper who also lives with Saunders.

Piper says Saunders was out on the balcony at the Holiday Inn Resort in Panama City Beach Wednesday morning with his girlfriend drinking coffee. She then went inside and Saunders stood up, but never made it in, according to Piper.
“The surveillance cameras from the hotel suggest that he either fell against the wall – leaned against the wall or something – then he fell over the side of the balcony,” says Piper.

The News Herald of Panama City reports Saunders’ daughter and her four friends were sleeping in the hotel room when he fell.

Panama City Beach police say they don’t suspect foul play. They’re still trying to determine how Saunders fell and his exact cause of death.

Hotel management told the newspaper the incident appeared to be accidental and was not alcohol-related.

Saunders loved to race, according to Piper and was in the process of putting one of his cars back together. Saunder’s daughter, Rachel, 18, who was with him at the hotel is understandably heartbroken.

She tweeted the following after her father’s death: “I know you’re in a better place, where you need to be..Even if it’s not here with me. RIP dad.”
American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller released the following statement:

“American Airlines is saddened to learn of the death of Capt. Thomas “Tommy” Saunders, who had been a pilot with American for more than 35 years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Capt. Saunders’ family.”

An autopsy is pending.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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