The Pan Am Series – Part XV: President Kennedy

President Kennedy and Pan Am

This November 22 Americans born in the 1950s and before will recall that day in 1963, fifty years ago, when the 35th U.S. President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Like their parents and grandparents who remember where they were on December 7, 1941 and their children and grandchildren who remember where they were on September 11, 2001, these baby-boomers will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the words of Walter Cronkite announcing that the President had died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

But for everyone, the significance of that event, and the history that followed, will be a memory forever. Pan American World Airways, in service to the White House that day, was there.

Pan Am on November 22, 1963

For most of this month, television networks have been broadcasting specials and documentaries about the assassination of President Kennedy. Often are shown old newsreels of the President and his party leaving Dallas Love Field in his limousine, and in many, one can see in the background a Pan Am 707 and members of its crew. That 707 was a “White house Press Charter”. The aircraft carried the news media and other White House staff and went everywhere the Presidential Aircraft, Air Force One, also a 707, went. Pan Am’s 707 was specially configured with all First Class seating and was stocked with “gourmet” food and drink. The operation involved an interchange during the trip to allow the media to cover both the departure and arrival of the President. At departure, Air Force One would depart first, allowing the media to cover it. En-route, the Pan Am aircraft would overtake Air Force One and land at the destination first to enable the media to cover the President’s arrival. On the morning of November 22, 1963, Air Force One and Pan Am traveled from Fort Worth to Dallas.

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Cecil Stoughton photo)

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Rob Hinnant photo from The Kennedy Gallery)

On board the Pan Am Press Charter that day was Kari-Mette Pigmans, a young Flight Attendant (then called “Stewardess”) from Norway who was in her first year of employment with Pan Am. She wrote of her memories from that day in a story featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt:

“During my first year of employment, I was chosen to fly the White House Press Charters.  The year was 1963 and John F. Kennedy was the President. I was amongst the select few chosen to fly the press that tailed Air Force One wherever President Kennedy went.  * * *

“I would not say that we were special, but we were the 11 chosen and led by Captain Doug Moody.  There were 4 in the cockpit and 7 in the cabin and that rounded out the crew for that year.    * * *

“I am writing about a particular day, however, and as I sit down to write this, tears fill my eyes and drip down my cheek to my notes that I have scribbled down.  The day was Friday, November 22nd 1963.  We flew . . . to Dallas (Love Field) where the President was fulfilling an invitation from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to visit his home state of Texas.  I remember the day vividly; it was a beautiful fall Texas day probably in the 70s. * * *

“The press had left the plane in the same quick fashion that they normally would so that they could get positioned to cover the Presidential events.  With our plane parked right next to Air Force One, the other 6 girls and I walked down to the tarmac to catch what was to be our last glimpse of the President that we had all become so fond of.   Jackie Kennedy joined him for this day in Dallas.  We saw the motorcade leave the airport with Gov. John Connally and his wife in the front of the open-air limo and JFK and Jackie in the back seats. * * *

“The crew was set to have a short layover in Dallas so we headed to the terminal for a quick meal.  It was not long before we were called back to our plane.  The news we received back on the plane hit us like a rock.  After what seemed like an eternity, a very solemn row of cars appeared.  Jackie Kennedy stepped out of the car.  She was still wearing that iconic, beautiful pink and navy Chanel suit, but now stained with blood.  * * *

“Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird arrived right behind Jackie and they all quickly entered Air Force One.  We had the misfortune of seeing the coffin which was later lifted into Air Force One.  There was not one dry eye around us and we stood there in complete silence as there was nothing really to say – conversation was just out of the question.  * * *

John F. Kennedy's casket being loaded on board Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

John F. Kennedy’s casket being loaded on Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

“As we soon found out later, Lyndon Johnson was quickly sworn in as the 36th President on Air Force One.  A few minutes later the President’s plane took off and we headed behind in tow for Andrews Air Force Base.  Everyone remembers where they were that tragic afternoon.  We had truly witnessed history.  American History….World History….[and]….Pan American was there.”  

 

Here is a video of Kari Mette-Pigman’s interview with the Sixth Floor Museum:

Two Days Later

In New York, another young Flight Attendant, Carla Levesque Marshall, was assigned to work Pan Am’s flight 110 to Rome. It was a very emotional trip for her, as recalled in her story, “Indelible Impressions”, also featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People. Below are some excerpts from her story:

“I tore myself away on Sunday, November 24th to report to New York’s Idlewild Airport for Pan American Flight #110 to Rome.  I didn’t want to go, feeling as though it was some sort of treasonous act to leave my country during this terrible crisis.

“Our 707 was filled to capacity with anxious passengers.  It turned out that most of them felt just as I did – they were leaving home and preferred instead to stay to support America.  Throughout the long hushed night across the Atlantic, no one slept, whispering to us and to each other, communicating sadness, homesickness and despair, crying and comforting each other until we all arrived exhausted in the morning mist at Fumicino Airport in Rome.

“As soon as we stepped into the terminal, members of our Pan Am ground staff came up to greet us, first to offer their sympathy, [and also tell us about] a proxy memorial service for President Kennedy to be held . . . at the Basilica St. John Lateran, the Pope’s own cathedral.   

“Upon arrival at [our] hotel, everyone from the concierge to the porters to the housekeeping staff expressed their condolences to us. President Kennedy’s photo was on the wall in the lobby draped in black.  We changed clothes as quickly as we could and jumped into a taxi to take us to the cathedral.  We didn’t realize that thousands of Romans [had] the same idea.  When our driver stopped the taxi, he pointed to a huge throng of people all dressed in black, which we suddenly recognized as the end of an impossibly long line of fellow mourners. * * *

“We were talking about how worried we were that we would never even see the church, let alone get inside to participate in the service, because the line was well over a mile long.  Someone near us asked in heavily accented English, ‘Are you Americans?’ We nodded, and then the miracle began to happen.  In Italian, I heard them say to the people in front of them that we were Americans, and with that, a few people stood aside to let us move up in the line. This incredible courtesy repeated itself over and over, until we found ourselves being gently pushed inside the cathedral.  There was San Giovanni in Laterano in all of its palatial glory. 

“The courtesy extended to us did not stop there. Unbelievably, the Italians continued to open a path for us until we were actually standing directly in front of the High Altar encased in its brilliant gold.  Television klieg lights were above us and shown down upon the most stunning scene: On the High Altar was a coffin draped in the flag of the United States. Stationed at each corner of the altar were Honor Guards in full dress uniforms from each of the United States armed services, and also from each of the Italian armed services.  Behind the High Altar was the entire assemblage of the College of Cardinals and the Ecumenical Council dressed in their scarlet robes.  Pope Paul VI, dressed in white robes, began the high mass for President Kennedy, and we joined in the prayers with hearts filled with love for our President and gratitude for the wonderful people who had allowed us to witness this astonishing event. Tears were streaming down my cheeks when a very small elderly lady at my side reached up and began patting my arm, saying, ‘Mi dispicere tanto’ – I’m so very sorry.

“The following day, my crew and I flew on to Tehran.  The sentiment, ‘I’m so very sorry’ was repeated by almost every passenger during our flight, and by every Iranian with whom we came into contact on the ground – the airport staff, our crew bus driver, the hotel staff and even strangers on the street who saw us in our Pan Am uniforms. Again, President Kennedy’s photograph was on the Hilton Hotel lobby wall, and there were other photos of him on the walls of our individual rooms, all draped in black.

“This global outpouring of grief and sympathy took place early in my career, and it was the first time that I comprehended how completely the rest of the world identified Pan American Airways and those of us who worked for the Pan Am family, as extensions of America, and extensions of what America stood for: freedom and hope of freedom. The rest of the world had recognized that the death of young President Kennedy was a blow to those hopes of freedom. The expressions of sympathy were not really directed at me, but to the symbol I had the privilege to represent.”

While preparing this installment of The Pan Am Series, it was discovered that Father John Schultz, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then a seminary student in Rome, was also present at the Mass on 25 November at the Basilica  St. John Lateran.

*****

The above stories are two of seventy-one stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

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For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

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A Kindle Edition of Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People is now available!

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The Pan Am Series – Part VI: Latin America and Flight 201

    

The S-38 pioneered Pan Am's expansion in the Caribbean and Central America.

The S-38 pioneered Pan Am’s expansion in the Caribbean and Central America.

A Boeing 747 at Rio de Janeiro -  the mainstay of Pan Am's South American operations until the end.

A Boeing 747 at Rio de Janeiro – the mainstay of Pan Am’s South American operations until the end.

Pan Am, from the beginning has been identified with Latin America.  Perhaps it is the name, “Pan American Airways”, which founder Juan Trippe finally settled on when told that “pan” meant all and that is what the airline was: it served all the Americas.

The airline’s first scheduled mail (28 October 1927) and passenger (16 January 1928) flights were from Key West to Havana, and on 29 October 1928, Miami was added to the route system.  During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Pan Am’s network extended through all of Central and South America. Pan Am also purchased a number of ailing or defunct airlines in Central and South America and negotiated with postal officials to win most of the US government’s airmail contracts to the region. In September 1929 Trippe toured Latin America with Charles Lindbergh to negotiate landing rights in a number of countries, including SCADTA’s home turf in Colombia, and Venezuela. By the end of the year, Pan Am offered flights along the west coast of South America to Peru. The following year, Pan Am purchased the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA), giving it a seaplane route along the east coast of South America to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and westbound to Santiago, Chile. Pan Am also partnered with W. R. Grace & Company in 1929 to form Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra).

Front and back cover of Pan Am's first timetable.  Reproduction of the original eight page folder.

Front and back cover of Pan Am’s first timetable. Reproduction of the original eight page folder.

The Sikorsky S-38 was the workhorse of the period and was used in survey flights and scheduled service as Pan Am extended its route system in the Caribbean.  On 6 February 1929, this aircraft made the first airmail flight to the Canal Zone with Charles Lindbergh in command and John A. Hambleton, one of the airline’s co-founders, as co-pilot.

Timetable cover circa early 1930s.

Timetable cover circa early 1930s.

Captain John Marshall piloted Pan Am’s Latin America routes for years on many of the airline’s aircraft.  He wrote about Pan Am in Latin America along with memories about his first flight to Rio in a piece that appeared in Airways Magazine.  Here are excerpts from his article, “Flying to Rio”:

“Pan American Airways (the ’World’ did not come until after the war, when the airline really did fly all over the world) from the beginning had a Latin flavor.  Its very first flight was from Key West to Havana, and the early days were marked by exploration and new service to the Caribbean, Central America, and down to the huge southern half of the hemisphere. One of founder Juan Trippe’s early moves was the purchase of the New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA).  The routes from this purchase formed the backbone of the South American route system that would be a mainstay of the company until its very last days.  Included in the deal was a fleet of Consolidated Commodores.”

Consolidated Commodore
Consolidated Commodore

Much of the early route exploration done during 1929 was accomplished with the Sikorsky S-38 seaplane with Charles Lindbergh at the controls, along with wife Anne and the Trippes, Juan and his wife Betty. Together they pioneered these first routes that connected Miami with Cuba and Central America.  Later on that year they explored another air mail route that took them through Puerto Rico and as far south as Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana (now Surinam).

“The fledgling airline’s fleet of Consolidated Commodore and the venerable S-38 formed the backbone of Pan Am’s South American operation until the arrival of the four-engine Sikorsky S-42.

“The Commodore could cover the journey from Miami to Rio in an astounding five days.  It could fly nearly 900 miles without refueling, and carry a load of 32 passengers, plus cargo – a truly staggering achievement!  Crossing the equator vested one with a rare and unique badge of honor, and properly engraved certificates were solemnly presented to each passenger.  When the ‘Line’ was crossed, the captain pulled back on the yoke and then pushed abruptly forward, performing a swooping, stomach-dropping maneuver that was proof that the flight had indeed crossed the Equator and entered the southern hemisphere.

“It was about this time that Pan Am began building a series of guest houses along the long route to South America in order to provide suitable accommodations for over-night passengers.  These guest houses would remain in use until well after the war.

Flight 201

Pan Am’s flight 201 could be considered a Pan Am “signature” flight that operated on its prestige routes.  It originally operated between Miami and Buenos Aires and eventually between New York and Buenos Aires.  The flight also included a stop in Rio de Janeiro.  Just when the flight was designated “201” is difficult to determine.  The flight number appears in the December 1939 timetable but does not in the April 1939 timetable.  Timetables from earlier years had no flight numbers.

In 1939, flight 201 operated six days a week with an S-42, and the journey took 6 days.  Below is the schedule of flight 201 from the December 1939 timetable.  Note the overnight stops.

1939 Latin America

The Sikorsky S-42

The Sikorsky S-42

In 1940 the flight was operated with a Boeing 307 “Strato Clipper” and in 1943, a DC-3 was operated on the route. Presumably this continued during the war wartime restrictions prevented publication of public timetables.

1940 Latina America-1      1943 Latin America-1

Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3

As the war was winding down, Pan Am began transition from wartime to peacetime operations and the focus was on Latin America. The October 1945 time table advertised a 21 hour trip between New York and Buenos Aires with “huge new 100 and 200-passenger Clippers”.  However, until the these new Clippers were available, the route to Buenos Aires continued to be operated with a DC-3 from Miami with overnight stops in Port of Spain, Belem and Rio de Janeiro.

Sched 1945-5       Sched 1945-3

From Captain Marshall:

“In July, 1948,  just three years after the end of the war, Pan Am advertised daily single plane service between New York and Rio.  The flight number was 201, as it would remain until the last day of the airline, and it left every night for Brazil.  The aircraft was a Douglas DC-4  the unpressurized successor to the C-54, the military workhorse whose fame extended to the Berlin Airlift in the same year.  Flight 201 left New York La Guardia (New York Idlewild, later JFK, would not come into general use until years later) at 2315 hours, according to the timetable, which was 11:15 p.m. to the civilian populace.  Ten hours later it landed at San Juan, where it spent an hour’s layover before departing on the next leg, to Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad, touching down three and a half hours later.   Passengers had the option of breaking their journey at Pan Am’s Piarco Guest House in Port of Spain and continuing on the same flight the next day or waiting to take flight 203, another DC-4 that operated on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Georgetown, British Guinea, Paramaribo, Surinam, and Cayenne, French Guinea.  That flight departed Port of Spain at 2:00 a.m. and passengers spent the rest of the long night boring through the South American skies to those exotic ports of call. Those continuing on flight 201 departed for Belem, Brazil at 1415 hours, 2:15 p.m. 

Douglas DC-4

Douglas DC-4

“Belem is Brazil’s northeastern-most seaport, on the bulge of the continent just north of the mouth of the Amazon, where the continent juts out into the Atlantic.  It is eight gut-throbbing hours before we land in Belem; nearly midnight.  Never despair, however, because the end is finally in sight.  On the ground a scarce sixty minutes, at 22315 hours, 11:15 p.m., flight 201 lifts off for the final time.  Next stop Rio!  The DC-4 flies through the endless night until finally the sun pushes its way into the windows on the port side of the aircraft.  For sightseeing, the passengers missed nothing; the flight from Belem is over nothing but solid, endless, green; the never-ending Brazilian rain forest.  Villages and settlements are mere specks of light in the endless darkness, there is nothing to see.  The new capital city of Brasilia is not yet a gleam of an idea in a politician‘s mind.  Finally the airplane begins its descent, and right on schedule, at 0715 hours, 7:15 a.m., the DC-4 touches down at Rio’s Galeao Airport.  What a journey!”

The June 1948 timetable below shows the journey of flight 201 on the “Latin America Services” page.  A map illustrating Pan Am’s route system is also shown.  Note the extent of services in Latin America.

PA timetable 1948 East Coast Latin American   Map 1948 (2)

Pan Am’s large presence in Latin America continued after the war and into the 50s and 60s but with the sale of Panagra to Braniff in 1967 and the sales of its subsidiaries, its presence, particularly in South America, became gradually less dominant. Timetable maps illustrate the changes.

Map from 1945 timetable.

Map from 1945 timetable.

Map from 1952 timetable.

Map from 1952 timetable.

Map from 1956 timetable.

Map from 1956 timetable.

Map from 1959 timetable.

Map from 1959 timetable.

Route map from 1969 timetable, after sale of Panagra.

Map from 1969 timetable, after sale of Panagra.

Route map from 1978 timetable.

Map from 1978 timetable.

Flight 201, however, continued operation as illustrated in the selected timetable pages below.  In 1952, a Boeing 377 Strato Clipper was used and offered “El Presidente Especial” service that included a lower deck club lounge and extra food and bar service. In 1956, a DC-6B (Super 6 Clipper) was employed in an all-First Class service, featuring the “President Special” twice a week. This service, according to the timetable “provides the ultimate in luxury service including Sleeperette chairs for bed length sleeping comfort.  Special food service and extra cabin attendants.”  The flight stopped in Caracas, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, terminating in Montevideo.  In 1959, the service was operated with a DC-7B, with “President Special” offerings on Tuesday and Friday.  The flight also stopped in Sao Paulo.  In 1969, the flight operated with a Boeing 707 and added Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, as an intermediate point.  And in 1978, the flight was operated nonstop between New York and Rio de Janeiro with Boeing 747 on Friday and Saturday and a 707 the rest of the week.

1952 Latin America

1956 Latin America           1959 Latin America

1969 Latin America     PA timetable 1978 JFK-RIO

Douglas DC-7B

Douglas DC-7B

Captain Marshall’s first trip on flight 201 was in the late 1970s when he piloted a Boeing 707 from New York to Rio.  Below are his memories from the trip.

From Captain Marshall:

“Came the jets, and not much had really changed, except the guest houses were left for the flight crews.  The first time I flew flight 201 was in the late ‘70s, and my chariot was a 707.  Departure from Kennedy Airport was at 2200, and it was the nightly non-stop to Rio.  The airplane was at nearly maximum gross weight for the long flight; it was a common occurrence to “ring the bell” at a noise monitoring site near the airport, and we did just that.

“The first hours were spent flying south down the familiar airways into the Caribbean — dozens of flights to San Juan and Jamaica and yes, Piarco, had made these airways like old friends.  South of Port-of-Spain, however, the airways and place names became decidedly more exotic.  Georgetown and Paramaribo passed silently beneath in the darkness, and then we crossed the border into Brazil.  The immensity of the country struck me when I realized that we were barely half way — all the rest of the way would be through Brazilian airspace, but it would consume mere hours, instead of days just a few years before.

“A three-quarter moon had risen over my left shoulder, providing just enough illumination to enable me to pick out rivers below.  I craned my neck to peer forward into the night, searching for the mighty Amazon, which we would cross  just east of Santarem.  Suddenly there it was, stretched out before us in the moonlight, that most immense of rivers.  As we lined it up with the moon, I could see far to the east, where it opened up to a vast oceanic estuary, a hundred miles across at its mouth.  In a moment we would cross the equator, and I felt myself anxiously waiting for the bump.  In later years I always thought it would be an amusing exercise to have someone flush the lav just as we crossed the Line, and see if the swirl stopped going clockwise and began rotating in the other direction.  (Or is it the other way around?)

“Communications are a little different down here.  Routine position reports are passed to Belem on HF (high frequency) radio, which was proving to be a difficult exercise.  Both Belem and Brazilia radio seem to be at the bottom of a deep echoing well, and require patient persistence to make ourselves heard.  I was reminded of my first flights to India and South Asia.  One of the caveats concerning flight into South America niggled at my brain.  “They’ll give you anything you ask for, so you are essentially your own air traffic control.”  I tested this a moment later when, after finally reaching Belem, we asked for the next higher flight level.  The answer came instantly winging back, without a pause.  “Roger, Clipper, cleared to climb to flight level three five zero.”  Now is when the do-it-yourself kicks in.  We dialed up the air-to-air VHF frequency, 126.9, and made the required broadcast in the blind.  “Clipper 201, on one twenty-six nine, in the blind, southbound on Amber 4, fifty south of Santarem, climbing out of three three zero for three fife zero.”  I reached up and flipped on the landing lights, two stabbing beams of light piercing the night.  Silence.  Not a lot of traffic abroad in northern Brazil at two in the morning.

“Above, the night was punctuated by a dazzling display of stars, uncompromised by any lights on the ground; below an endless stretch of black, broken only every hundred miles or so by the lights of a tiny village on the banks of a river.  The air was smooth; we were suspended in the night.  I wandered aft to stretch my legs in the darkened cabin, virtually the entire airplane was asleep.  A lone flight attendant sat on a plastic crate in the galley, reading a book.  She smiled at me as I reentered the cockpit.

“Finally the eastern sky grays, then pinks and blues, and the sun burst upon us.  In three hours we will begin our descent into Rio’s Galaeo Airport, but we couldn’t relax our vigilance even for a moment.  Hot air balloons and hang gliders drift blithely across the long descent path from Pirai, unseen and unheeded by Rio Approach Control, who at this point have yet to see their first radar scope.  All hands were on the flight deck, eyes searching the haze ahead.  (Later on in my career, taking off from Galaeo for New York on a miserable rainy midnight in a fully loaded 747, we had a very near miss with a brightly lit hot air balloon drifting among the broken clouds, right smack in the middle of the departure path.  It appeared suddenly in the glare of the landing lights, startling us all nearly out of our wits, and was quickly gone.  We missed it by less than a hundred feet, by my estimate, and I wondered later if its occupants were as surprised and frightened as we were, and whether they were caught in our jet wash.)

“Finally the airport appeared in the windscreen, and on the horizon we could see Corcovado Mountain, with the giant figure of Christ, arms outstretched, the symbol of Rio.  With a healthy crunch the wheels bit the concrete, and we arrived.”

Pan Am’s flight 201 continued serving Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Montevideo with a Boeing 747 throughout the 1980’s and until the airline ceased operations in 1991.  The aircraft was configured in a “Latin America” seating arrangement that provided additional First Class space for a market that historically demanded it.  The flight operated four days a week non-stop to Rio de Janeiro and continued twice weekly to Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  This is illustrated in Pan Am’s last timetable, below, issued about six weeks before Pan Am ceased operations.  Note the very few cities served in South America compared to the early days.  There was, however, an extensive presence in the Caribbean and Central America, the original area of operation for the fledgling airline in  the 1920’s and 30’s.

1991-Last    Last timetable schedules    Last timetable seat config

  Map 1991-Last

In 1927 Pan Am came into being as an airline that served the Americas.  Sixty years later, after serving the globe, Pan Am returned to its roots.  It was from there that Pan American World Airways became a fond memory to all those who kept the once mighty airline in the skies.

There has been a wealth of literature written about Pan Am.  John Marshall, a long-time Pan Am captain, featured in this story, wrote a number of articles that appeared in Airways Magazine.  They will be featured in future editions of this series. He also contributed a story about his experiences flying Pan Am planes in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of Its People, published by BlueWater Press.

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Please follow this link for further details and purchasing information about this book:  http://www.bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

For more information about Pan American World Airways history visit the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation at  http://panam.org/

The Pan Am Series – IV: The Karachi Hijacking

Recollections of Bill Lange who ran the Pan Am Emergency Command Center during the incident have been added. Very interesting and compelling.

JPB Transportation

747-2

Pan Am Flight 73, a Boeing 747-121, N656PA, Clipper Empress of the Seas, was hijacked on 5 September 1986 while on the ground at Karachi, Pakistan (“KHI”) by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organization. The aircraft, with 360 passengers on board, had just arrived from Mumbai, India, and was preparing to depart for Frankfurt and continuing on to New York.

The incident began as passengers boarded the aircraft.  The four hijackers were dressed as Karachi airport security guards and were armed with assault rifles, pistols, grenades and plastic explosive belts. At about 6:00 a.m., the hijackers drove a van that had been modified to look like an airport security vehicle through a security checkpoint up to one of the boarding stairways to aircraft.  The hijackers stormed up the stairways into the plane, fired shots from an automatic weapon, and seized control of the aircraft. Flight attendants were able to alert…

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The Pan Am Series – Part V: The “Nautical Airline”

An American Clipper Ship circa 1870

An American Clipper Ship circa 1870

Pan American World Airways has always been associated with the sea and things nautical.  Its aircraft were called “Clippers” and many of the Clipper names had references to the sea, particularly with the Boeing 747 aircraft, which were given names such as Pride of the Sea, Champion of the Seas, Spark of the Ocean, Belle of the Sea, Crest of the Wave and Sovereign of the Seas, to name a few.

How Pan Am became the “Nautical Airline” is centered on Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe who dreamed of this idea from the beginning of his venture in establishing an airline. How Pan Am was formed is a story of wheeling and dealing, mergers and acquisitions and financial and political maneuvering that is well documented in the Pan Am literature, including Robert Daley’s An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Marylin Bender and Selig Alyschul’s The Chosen Instrument and R.E.G. Davies’ Pan Am, An Airline and Its Aircraft.

Suffice to say, however, it is useful to have a little background.  In the beginning there were four interested groups, as identified by R.E.G. Davies in Pan Am, An Airline and Its Aircraft. The first group, the Montgomery Group, formed Pan American Airways, Inc. (PAA).  It was founded on 14 March 1927 by Air Force Majors “Hap” Arnold, Carl Spaatz and John H. Jouett, later joined by John K. Montgomery and Richard B. Bevier, as a counterbalance to German-owned carrier “SCADTA” (Colombo-German Aerial Transport Co) that had been operating in Colombia since 1920. SCADTA was viewed as a possible German aerial threat to the Panama Canal.  Eventually Montgomery petitioned the US government to call for bids on an U.S. airmail contract between Key West and Havana (FAM 4) and won the contract.  However, PAA lacked any aircraft to perform the job and did not have landing rights in Cuba.  Under the terms of the contract, PAA had to be flying by 19 October 1927.

On 2 June 1927, Juan Trippe formed the Aviation Corporation of America (ACA) (the Trippe Group) with financially powerful and politically well-connected backing, and raised $300,000.  On 1 July Reed Chambers and financier Richard Hoyt (the Chambers-Hoyt Group) formed Southeastern Airlines.   On 8 July Trippe formed Southern Airlines and on 11 October Southeastern was reincorporated as Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways.  Trippe then proposed a merger between these three groups and in doing so played a trump card:  He and John A. Hambleton, one of his backers, traveled to Cuba and persuaded the Cuban president to grant landing rights to the Aviation Corporation, making Montgomery’s mail contract useless as a bargaining chip.  After much wrangling between the groups, including a meeting on Hoyt’s yacht during which Assistant Postmaster General Irving Grover threatened that if there was no deal he would not be awarding any contract to anyone, the Aviation Corporation of the Americas was formed, operating as Pan American Airways, headed by Juan Trippe.  Later the corporation’s name was changed to Pan American Airways.

The deadline of 19 October still loomed, however. A Fokker F-VII aircraft was selected for the operation, but could not be used because Meacham’s Field in Key West was not completed and could not accommodate the aircraft. What transpired was an eleventh hour miracle. Pan American’s representative in Miami learned that a Fairchild FC-2 monoplane was in Key West, sitting out a hurricane threat.  The aircraft was owned by West Indian Aerial Express (the Fairchild Group) and a deal was made to charter the aircraft.  The pilot was offered $145.50 to carry mail to Havana that had just arrived on the Florida East Coast-Atlantic Coast Line railroads.  The hurricane threat disappeared and the trip was made.  The rest is history.

On 28 October 1927, the Fokker left Key West on Pan American’s inaugural international flight, carrying 772 lb of mail. On 16 January 1928, the first passenger flight was completed on the same route.  And on 28 October 1928, Pan American established its Miami base at Dinner Key.

The First Clipper

In 1931, Pan Am acquired the Sikorsky S-40, the first aircraft that would be designated “Clipper”.  This designation came about as a result of Trippe’s fascination with ships and the sea.  As a child he had traveled to Europe on Cunard Line ships and this fascination transcended to the idea that Pan Am should be a kind of nautical airline.

RMS Mauretania, a Cunard ship that Juan Trippe might have traveled on to Europe

RMS Mauretania, a Cunard liner that Juan Trippe might have traveled on to Europe.

Along these lines, a maritime culture emerged.  Andre Priester, who Trippe had previously hired as chief engineer, dressed the pilots as naval officers with gold wings pinned to their breast pockets.  Gold stripes were on the jacket sleeves to show rank.  The pilots also wore peaked hats with white covers and a gold strap.  And, according to Robert Daley in An American Saga, Priester “forbade [the pilots] to stuff or twist these caps into the dashing, high-peaked shapes so dear to most aviators’ hearts.”  These naval trappings according to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument “served to set distance between the airline and aviation’s all too proximate history symbolized by the khaki breeches, leather puttees, jacket and helmet of the daredevil flyer.  [Pan Am’s] pilots were invested as engineers to whom flying was a scientific business rather than a  thrilling escapade.”  Pilots underwent a stringent and comprehensive training program and, according to former flying boat and retired captain Bill Nash, were required to have college degrees prior to hiring and to demonstrate proven proficiency prior to promotion in the flight deck.  Nash started as a Fourth Officer before rising to Captain.

Sikorsky S-40 - "Southern Clipper" - the first Clipper Ship

Sikorsky S-40 – Pictured is the Southern Clipper

When the S-40 made its debut, it was the largest airplane built in the United States.  Its maiden voyage on 19 November 1931 was from Miami to the Canal Zone carrying 32 passengers with Charles Lindbergh at the controls and Basil Rowe (formerly with the West Indian Aerial Express) as co-pilot.  Igor Sikorsky, who Trippe had earlier brought on board to design an aircraft to Pan Am’s own specifications (the predecessor to the S-40, the S-38) also had some time at the controls.

Trippe named the aircraft the American Clipper.  Perhaps inspired by prints of American clipper ships hanging in his home or reaching back to his Maryland ancestry from where these swift sailing ships originated in the shipyards of Baltimore, it was, according to Bender and Altschul “appropriate then, to call the first transport ship designed for international air commerce after those magnificent vessels.”  Thereafter, all Pan Am aircraft were to be designated Clippers.

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow Airport

Clipper Dashing Wave at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport

Clipper Dashing Wave at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport

The operation would be in keeping with maritime lore and custom.  The pilot was called “captain” and the co-pilot “first officer”.  The title “captain” implied master of the ship or chief executive of the flying boat.  Speed was calculated in knots (nautical miles per hour), time in bells, and a crew’s tour of duty was a “watch”.  In the cabin, according to Daley, “walls and ceilings would be finished in walnut painted in a dark stain, and the fifty passengers would sit in Queen Anne chairs upholstered in blue and orange. The carpet would be blue, and the windows equipped with rope blinds.  As aboard any ship, life rings would hang from the walls of the lounge.”  The stewards, according to Bender and Altschul, “were modeled in function and appearance after the personnel of luxury ocean liners.  Their uniforms were black trousers and white waist-length jackets over white shirts and black neckties. Stewards distributed remedies for airsickness, served refreshments (and in the S-40, prepared hot meals in the galley of the aircraft), pointed out scenic attractions from the windows of the plane and assisted with the red tape of Customs and landing procedures.”

This nautical approach seemed to carry on through the entire existence of Pan Am.  The flight deck – bridge – was always on the top deck, as on an ocean liner.  This was evident in the flying boats, including the Martin M-130, the China Clipper, the Boeing 314, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and the Boeing 747, with its flight deck on the upper deck of the aircraft.

M-130 - China Clipper

M-130 – China Clipper

Boeing 314

Boeing 314

Boeing 377

Boeing 377

The flight deck of the Boeing 314 had the appearance of the bridge of a merchant ship:

The "Bridge" of the Boeing 314

The “Bridge” of the Boeing 314

Note the Clipper ship on the forward bulkhead of the Boeing 707:

Interior of Boeing 707 in All-Economy Charter Configuration.

Interior of Boeing 707 in All-Economy Charter Configuration.

Below, the SS United States and the bridge of a large merchant ship:

SS United States  (photo credit Charles Anderson)

SS United States
(photo credit Charles Anderson)

Bridge of a Roll On/Roll Off merchant ship.

Bridge of a Roll On/Roll Off merchant ship.

The “nautical” feel was also prevalent at Clipper departures, particularly from Dinner Key in Miami during the early years and Pan Am’s Worldport at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in the later years.  There was an atmosphere similar to the departure of an ocean liner, with festivity, sense of adventure and anticipation of a voyage to a distant place.  The setting at the Worldport, particularly with the evening departures to distant destinations, included passengers and well-wishers gathered at the gate in sight of the Clipper being readied for the long voyage ahead.  There was a sense of drama; the type of drama that Juan Trippe probably envisaged for each Clipper departure.  The romance of traveling to faraway places was part and parcel of the Pan Am experience.

The nautical element was also featured in many of Pan Am’s printed brochures and posters, as well as on the cover of an annual report.

1958 Annual Report

1958 Annual Report

However, as the years passed, the romance of the “nautical airline” began to wear out.  Perhaps Pan Am tried to preserve it with the Boeing 747, but times had changed.  The grand ocean liners were soon replaced by cruise ships where passengers were more interested in the on-board entertainment rather than the peaceful environment of the sea (although that can still be experienced on cargo ships).  Airline passengers became more interested in getting from A to B at the lowest fare, rather than experiencing the ambiance of a flying ocean liner.  Airplanes became more like buses, with the exception of the premium cabins, rather than airships commanding the airways. And the bridge, both on many cruise ships and on the largest passenger aircraft in the world, would no longer be on the topmost deck. The sense of command of the airways and the sea has seemed to disappear, and the bridge, “formerly sacrosanct navigational preserves”, as eloquently described by John Maxtone-Graham in Liners to the Sun,  is now simply a functionary in the process of getting passengers from A to B, or in the case of a cruise ship, from A to A via port visits.

On the A-380, the flight deck is located between the main and upper decks:

A-380 - Note location flight deck compared to Boeing 747

A-380 – Note location of the flight deck compared to Boeing 747, pictured above.

And on the newer cruise liners, the bridge is not on the highest deck, as shown here on the Holland America Line’s Eurodam.

MS Eurodam - Note the location of the bridge four decks below the top deck.

MS Eurodam – Note the location of the bridge four decks below the top deck.

Perhaps Pan Am the Nautical Airline was overcome by its own success.  One cannot, however, deny that the idea of a nautical airline was a necessary step in the process of shrinking the globe.  Now, with today’s technology, it probably is no longer needed.  Happily, one tradition of the nautical airline continues:  the Pilot-in-Command of an airliner is still the “Captain”.

For anyone interested in the history of Pan Am, the books referenced above are excellent sources of in-depth analysis of the airline’s story.  Another excellent book, a time-line of historic Pan Am firsts and major events, with illustrations, is Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline, by James Patrick Baldwin and published by BlueWaterPress.  The contents can be viewed at this link: https://jpbtransconsulting.com/pan-am-book-images/, and can be purchased directly from the publisher at this link: http://www.bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am.html

It is also available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pan-American-World-Airways-Airline/dp/1604520469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381237003&sr=8-1&keywords=pan+american+world+airways+-+images+of+a+great+airline

Further information about Pan Am history can also be found on the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation,  http://panam.org/

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part Three: The Inaugural Flight

Snow Leopard-ground

Part Three:  The Inaugural Flight

Selling Tickets

With the Acceptance Flight completed and the aircraft ready to start operations, management and staff got into full gear. Tickets were sold, crews scheduled and plans were made for launch activities.  At the London Headquarters on Kensington High Street, tickets sales in both the Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan markets was brisk and flights sold out very quickly. However, ticket sales in the Dushanbe market was slow due to very little western business activity in the country, and what little passenger traffic there was, was largely government in nature. Thus, selling seats in the beyond markets was necessary.  As described in Part One, this “Sixth Freedom” operation enabled a profit on what would have been money losing flights.  In fact, over 90-95% of the booked passengers were booked on flights to Delhi or Karachi.  Deeply discounted advance purchase excursion tickets offered through local travel agents in the ethnic neighborhoods of London resulted in a huge response.

The Kensington High Street Headquarters served as both a ticket office and operations base with constant activity, day and night.  This was punctuated with welcome and frequent visits by the Pan Am and Tajik flight crews.

McMillan House-1 Cyrus and Eni

   McMillan House-6 Amin   McMillan House-4

Ticket Sales at Kensington High Street Office

McMillan House-3

Tajik Staff

McMillan House-2    McMillan House-7 Pilot

Pan Am Flight Crews visiting Kensington High Street Headquarters

Cabin Crew Scheduling

While ticket sales and preparations for the inaugural flight were progressing, Gunilla Crawford and her team of flight attendants set about to organize crew scheduling and rotations.  This was no easy task!

Cabin crew scheduling was a challenge for Gunilla.  With no computers available, some creativity was required:

From Gunilla Crawford:

“We went across the street from the hotel to a gas station and bought four dinosaur-shaped erasers in four different colors.  Each dinosaur represented a crew.   And each crew consisted of two ex-Pan Am flight attendants and the rest Tajik.  On a large poster board we plotted the four destinations, London, Dushanbe, Karachi and New Delhi.  By moving the dinosaurs between the destinations we made sure nobody was scheduled from London, when in fact the crew member was in New Delhi!”

Cabin Crew Sked-2   Cabin Crew Sked-3

Cabin Crew Scheduling.   In the left picture are Gunilla Crawford, Vince Rossi and Debbie Thornburg.  In the right are Gunilla, Linda Morehouse and Vince.  Note the colored dinosaurs!

From Vince Rossi, who worked on crew scheduling:

“Gunilla was responsible for the entire inflight programme. To that end, building and scheduling crews was an important component of her job. Four crews were required to staff the operation, with one or two crews on rotation back home. Each flight would be staffed with two Pan Am Pursers joined in the SP cabin by flight attendants from India for Hindi language as well as the wonderful Tajiks. Some Brazilian and French flight attendants who lived in London also joined.

“For aircraft plotting, crew staffing, scheduling and rest requirements, in the days before laptop computers with Excel spreadsheets, improvisation was needed. A long sheet of plotting paper was procured, along with 4 small rubber toy dinosaurs. Each dinosaur was numbered in pencil: crew/dinosaur 1, crew/dinosaur 2, etc…. An interpretation of a full week of aircraft movements and stations visited was marked on the plotting paper, with lines drawn as the days progressed marking the track of the aircraft from Heathrow through Dushanbe and on to Delhi or Karachi. When Gunilla said it was time to “run the dinosaurs”, we placed the numbered dinosaurs on the plotting paper, each one numbered and representing a crew at their respective locations across the system and ensured that legal rest requirements were met and staffing matched the projected aircraft movements. This method was used for the entire time of the operation.

“Often the dinosaurs were “run” on a coffee table in a dedicated crew lounge provided at our hotel on Bath Road near Heathrow, and crews from other carriers in the lounge would be amused watching the “run of dinosaurs.  This system worked exceptionally well. No aircraft movement was impeded due to cabin staffing or crew rest issues for the entire operation. It is also important to note that the initial “pairings” were established in meetings with the Tajik crewmembers, who also had an idea of how they wanted their work patterns and layover times and points. I may be mistaken but India and Pakistan were potential visa issues for the Tajiks even for layovers.”

 and . . . Catering

When Gunilla arrived in London, she was in for a surprise.  In addition to heading up the cabin crew, there was another responsibility as well:  Catering.  She handled that in pure Pan Am fashion.

“We made appointments with Catering at Heathrow airport, we picked china for the First Class Service, silver ware, serving dishes, baskets and linens. The “old” Pan Am training came back in force and we would do the service in the name of that classic carrier.” 

The food service to be offered was superb.

In First Class departing London, “Royal Doulton Service” included during the drinks service a choice of Hot Canapes including Chicken Kebab, Mushroom Cream Vol-au-Vent, Spring Roll, Basil Cashew Parmesan Tartlets and Asian Canapes of mixed pakoras and samosas. The Hors d’oeuvres offered a choice of Poached Salmon Medallion on Oakleaf lettuce with Diced Pepper and Cucumber Salad, or a Tomato Cup filled with Mayonnaise Lemon garnish or a Smoked Chicked Breast on Radicchio with Mandarin Orange and Cucumber or a Radish and Mixed Peppers Julienne, all with a Mixed Leaf Salad with Vinaigrette.  For the entree, the choices were Curry Prawn Jalfrezi with fresh chopped Coriander, Rack of Lamb with Herbs and Fresh Rosemary Sprigs or Chicken Shirin Polo accompanied by Basmati Rice with Zereshk or Potato Sesame Croquettes and a choice of vegetables including Broccoli au Gratin Mornay or Steamed Mixed Vegetables with Baby Sweetcorn, Turned Carrots and Mange Tout.

For desert  Gateau Chocolate Roulade with Orange Zest was followed by a cheese plate that included Camembert, Port Salut, Feta, Stilton, Brie with black grapes, black and green olives and celery batons.  Ending the meal was a fresh fruit basket.

Prior to landing in Dushanbe the pre-arrival “hot breakfast was just as posh…It was like working the Pan Am Clippers again”, according to Vince Rossi one of the ex-Pan Am flight attendants.

The Inaugural Flight

As the day approached for Snow Leopard’s first revenue flight from London to Dushanbe and onwards to Karachi, the crews began assembling in London to prepare.  For Gunilla, it was a happy reunion with the Tajik flight attendants who greeted their ex-Pan Am counterparts with “squeals and shouts of joy”.  For the inaugural flight four ex-Pan Am were to work the flight, Robert Stewart, Tania Anderson, Linda Morehouse and Linda Oja.  On the flight deck were Captain Ed Olasz, First Officer Jim Donahue and Flight Engineer Carl Meixal.  In addition, two qualified captains were assigned to the flight.

Preparations for departure went into high gear.  Nothing was overlooked.  Everything was covered, from the accuracy of the manuals to training to CRM (crew resources management) with the Tajik flight attendants.   Anything that could possibly happen, even the unpredictable, was discussed and thoroughly prepared for.

The excitement of flying again did not escape the ex-Pan Amers who were taking part in the operation.  Snow Leopard’s first flight coincided almost to the date of the demise of their beloved Pan Am, some two years prior.

From Tania Anderson:

“I happily scribbled away in my diary, gushing about the thrill of flying with my cosmopolitan colleagues again. A few fondly remembered having flown with this particular 747SP before. Some of my co-workers had not flown since Pan Am’s demise. It had been nearly two years to the day that I had been on my last flight, a White House Press Charter, when we learned that we were bankrupt for good. Now as we gathered in the lobby of our London hotel for the first flight to Dushanbe, we all noted the sad anniversary coupled with the excitement of exploring a new airline together.”

At 2215 hrs on the date of the inaugural flight, Snow Leopard, designated 7J801, departed London Heathrow for Dushanbe. The spirit on board was one of joy and happiness.

From Tania Anderson:

“During the flight, I quickly noted that many of the passengers, who were going onto Karachi, were much less frenetic than the ones we used to fly on Pan Am. They were elated to be going home, either for a visit or permanently, for a reasonably priced airline ticket. One passenger actually asked if he could kiss me, and I reluctantly replied, “Well, Ok, but on my cheek!” I also noted in my diary that we were flying across Russian airspace which may not sound like a big deal but to someone who grew up during the Cold War when the former USSR was our mortal enemy, it was intriguing to me.

“The multi-national crew also bonded quickly. The Tajik flight attendants loved the fact that my name was Tania. Naturally assuming that I was Russian with a name like Tania, one actually commented that I spoke good fluent English for a Russian. Some of the Tajiks were dark with olive skin and Middle Eastern looks. Most were Muslim. Others were the opposite end of the spectrum with white skin and light eyes. They were usually Russian Orthodox.

“Among the Tajik flight attendants, there were three Irenas on the flight.  Any time I said ‘Irena’, all three would whirl around simultaneously to see what I wanted.  The Tajik flight attendants  were absolutely delightful and so easy to get along with. They were also thrilled to have secured a job such as this with the opportunity to explore a bit of the world, especially London. Many of them had no transportation from their homes, so they simply walked miles to the airport to work these extraordinarily long flights. They went out of their way to tell us how their country was still in a lot of upheaval economically. In addition, Afghani insurgents were coming over the border to make trouble, and they wanted none of it. ‘Tania, we just all want peace and to be able to live our lives’, one told me.”

Cabin Crew-1

Crew-1   Upper deck SP from Vince

Cabin Crew-2a   Cabin Crew-1a

The Pan Am and Tajik Flight Crews

After a long flight into the night, Snow Leopard landed in Dushanbe.

From Tania Anderson:

“It was a cold, wintry, snowy day when we landed in Dushanbe to a zealous reception on the tarmac. After all, we were the first western aircraft to ever land in somewhat remote Tajikistan. I distinctly remember applause in the cabin upon our touchdown, but the local hoopla outside just about had me abandoning my jump-seat.

“With a dramatic back drop of steep snow-encrusted mountains, dozens of well-wishers had gathered on the tarmac in their traditional brightly-colored clothes. There was a band playing Russian instruments complete with long-nosed horns and big drums. Tajik national TV was there with their ancient equipment to record every single minute of the ceremonies and our arrival.”

DYU Reception-2  DYU Reception-1

The Reception at Dushanbe Airport

From Tania Anderson:

“Once on the blocks, the ground people enthusiastically boarded the plane, not only to welcome us, but to ask for a quick tour of the 747SP. Descending the spiral staircase, our pilots were given handsome home-made colorful robes to wear over their uniforms. Now that the door was open, I could observe the entire scene. Our pilots were quickly ushered down the stairs and off to the terminal for a reception including some local culinary treats whose identity was left to the imagination. Later one of them told me that the Tajiks had insisted that they shoot some vodka—maybe local moonshine—to celebrate the day. A bit horrified, our pilots made certain that the officials knew we still had another leg to fly to Karachi, but the general response was like, ‘So what?’

“Linda Oja and I stayed on the plane watching everything from L-1. Then something happened I shall never forget. As Linda squealed, ‘Oh, No!’ I saw some Tajiks dragging a sheep across the tarmac towards the Snow Leopard. It struggled the entire way, right up to the staircase, just as if it knew something lousy was about to occur. As they do in many countries, they sacrificed the sheep at the bottom of our stairs, directing the blood from his neck into a bowl. In the west we christen ships and airplanes with champagne, but now we were half way around the world in a land with customs very different than our own.

“Not long afterwards, the entire crew along with the ground people gathered in front of the aircraft for a memorable photo. Each of us was festooned with garlands of deep red-colored roses. They were velvet to the touch and their fragrance was heavenly, even against the cold blast of mid-winter.”

Crew and Ground Staff in front of Snow Leopard after arrival

Crew and Ground Staff in front of Snow Leopard after arrival.

From Tania Anderson:

“Standing there on that frosty winter day, I felt a true sense of pride about our latest “operation.” In true Pan Am fashion, we had pulled ourselves up after the bankruptcy and were on the other side of the planet helping the struggling Tajiks with their burgeoning airline, begun with one beautiful 747SP.

“Flying on the Snow Leopard was another wonderful Pan Amigo adventure to add to my memoirs.”

When Snow Leopard arrived at Dushanbe that wintery morning, Tajikistan was in the midst of an economic crisis along with a civil war.  Bread was being rationed but at the same time the country was trying to turn the page into a new chapter of their existence, emerging from the era of Soviet rule to an independent and free nation.  The arrival of this beautiful 747SP representing their national airline stoked both great pride and happiness among its citizens.
The story of Snow Leopard continues In the next and final part of this story, with exciting adventures for the Pan Am and Tajik crews and the sad end of the operation.

The Pan Am Series – Part IV: The Karachi Hijacking

747-2

Pan Am Flight 73, a Boeing 747-121, N656PA, Clipper Empress of the Seas, was hijacked on 5 September 1986 while on the ground at Karachi, Pakistan (“KHI”) by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organization. The aircraft, with 360 passengers on board, had just arrived from Mumbai, India, and was preparing to depart for Frankfurt and continuing on to New York.

The incident began as passengers boarded the aircraft.  The four hijackers were dressed as Karachi airport security guards and were armed with assault rifles, pistols, grenades and plastic explosive belts. At about 6:00 a.m., the hijackers drove a van that had been modified to look like an airport security vehicle through a security checkpoint up to one of the boarding stairways to aircraft.  The hijackers stormed up the stairways into the plane, fired shots from an automatic weapon, and seized control of the aircraft. Flight attendants were able to alert the cockpit crew using intercom, allowing the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer to escape through an overhead hatch in the cockpit, effectively grounding the aircraft.

During the following 16 hours, Zayd Hassan Safarini, the Jordanian leader of the hijackers, demanded the return of the flight crew to fly the aircraft to Larnaca, Cyprus, where he wanted to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners being detained in Cyprus. During negotiations between Safarini and Pakistani authorities, Safarini threatened to kill all passengers. Four hours into the hijacking, one of the passengers was shot and pushed out the door onto the tarmac below. As nightfall arrived, the hijackers herded the passengers and crew members into the center section of the aircraft. The four hijackers opened fire on the passengers and crew, and threw grenades among them, killing almost 20. Most of the survivors escaped through two doors of the plane which were forced open when the firing began.

55-Empress of the Seas   747-3

Pan Am Captain Hart Langer was in Hamburg at the time of the hijacking and received word that the hijackers were demanding a crew to fly them anywhere they wanted to go.  Below are his recollections of what happened in excerpts from his essay “Karachi Hijacking – Rescuing a 747” in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

” * * *  A 747 without a crew was useless to the hijackers, and they demanded that Pan Am provide an Arabic-speaking crew to fly them where they wanted to go.  Captain Jim Duncan (System Chief Pilot), through his contacts in IATA, called Captain Jazza Ghanem, the Vice-President of Flight Operations at Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines) to see if they could help out.  Captain Ghanem was willing, but unfortunately was overruled by top management at Saudia.

“As a result, the consensus at System Operations Control at JFK (New York), was that if Pan Am could find a volunteer crew, negotiations with the hijackers would hopefully get them to release all of the passengers in return for flying them to some other location.  Captain Duncan wanted to know if Captain Ed Cywinski and I could head to Karachi and fly the 747 to wherever the hijackers wanted to go, in return for releasing all 390 passengers.  We agreed.  Bob Huettl, a check Flight Engineer who was laying over in LHR (London), also volunteered. * * *

“As it turned out, the APU (Auxiliary Propulsion Unit) that was supplying electrical power to the 747 in KHI had a small oil leak, and the Tech Center at JFK had predicted exactly when it would shut itself down and stop providing power to the 747.  When it finally happened, the airplane went dark, and the hijackers thought that they were under attack.   They herded all the passengers into the overwing area, began shooting people at random, and set off numerous explosive devices.  At that point, the Pakistani army did indeed attack the airplane and finally overpowered the hijackers.

“All of this happened while we were en route to KHI.  Captain Duncan was able to get in touch with the Swissair DC-10 using a phone patch and HF radio, and informed us that the hijackers had been arrested.   When we arrived, we had a chance to inspect the airplane.  The carnage was unbelievable * * *   Pan Am dispatched a crack team of mechanics from LHR to KHI, and in five days they had the airplane in a flyable condition – which is remarkable considering that there were fifty-seven bullet holes in the fuselage.   Ed, Bob, and I flew the airplane back to JFK with a fuel stop in Frankfurt.  * * * “

In a related story, former Pan Am flight attendant Liz Morris tells about her volunteer work on Pan Am’s Care Team after the Karachi hijacking to assist families from that flight.   In her story, excerpted below, also from Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, she tells about a special passenger she cared for who was on the Clipper when it was hijacked:

“At that time – before Federal law required airlines to establish Care Teams to assist families and survivors of crashes and other disasters — Pan American used a one-on-one process to assist such survivors.  I was selected as one of 50-100 volunteers to meet the Boeing 747-121 upon its arrival with some 300 survivors at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York.  We were instructed to stay with our designated passenger or family and do everything possible to assist them with ground transportation, telephone communications, re-bookings, etc. (All immigration formalities had been attended to, via passenger listings, before the aircraft’s arrival, we learned.)

“I was first in the line to receive my special passenger or family – perhaps because of my 20-year seniority and/or because I worked in Special Services, which dealt with such situations.  I assumed I would be assigned the first passenger out of First Class – a celebrity or VIP of some kind.  Imagine my surprise when, as we lined up in the large and spacious JFK arrival hall to greet the traumatized passengers of Flight 73, I suddenly saw a skinny young  Pakistani teenager break from the oncoming crowd and run toward me shouting “Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Morris…”   * * *

“As he approached me, I recognized him.  Through several preceding years he had come to my office as the unaccompanied minor VIP son of an influential Pakistani family.  The first time he was brought to me he was a sad little boy weeping profusely.  * * *

“Now, on that fateful September day 25 years ago, as the young man ran up to me – still small and slender – I immediately recognized him as my young friend but couldn’t comprehend that he had been on Pan Am Flight 73.”

Bill Lange, then General Manager of Pan Am System Control, was also involved in this event from the Emergency Command Center in New York.  Here are his recollections:

“At the time, I was Gen Mgr of Pan Am System Control and thus ran the Emergency Command Center (NYCOZPA) dealing with this flight.  I well remember Hart Langer and Ed Cywinski agreeing to go to Karachi to fly the aircraft out with the hijackers if that became necessary, a decision on their part that cements them in my mind as the bravest people I’ve ever personally known.  They were, in fact, both in New York and I believe we got them last minute seats on as Swissair flight to Zurich with a connection from there to Karachi, although my memory on the particular flights involved may be fuzzy. 

“With the Command Center up and running, we were tied into the US Government Emergency Operations Center in Washington and also with Pan Am stations throughout the region.  We also had a direct link to Karachi via an open phone link into the Lufthansa (I think) station manager’s office because that office had windows overlooking the aircraft on the tarmac.  We were in direct connection through that office though the entire event and got the word first hand when the APU died and the aircraft went dark, leading to the explosions and shooting onboard.  During the hours of stand-off, Pan Am station and operating management were dispatched to each of a large number of airports around the region that we thought the hijackers, if they ever got airborne, might choose as a destination.  We also were back and forth with the US State Department and Military at the US Government Emergency Operations Center, providing information that was to be used to prepare a Delta Force team if the decision was made to try and free the hostages.

“It was a long night and next day at JFK and many pieces of it remain in my head in only fuzzy fashion, but one part that I do remember was after the aircraft was retaken and as the passengers were being given treatment and otherwise helped, we arranged the flight of two Pan Am 747 aircraft into Karachi to bring the passengers and crew members back to the US via Frankfurt.  During the Frankfurt stop, the badly injured passengers and crew were brought to the US military hospital there for treatment.  As these flights were being prepared and boarding priorities were being established, I took a call over the US government connection from the head of the FBI team that was just starting to investigate the who, what, why and how of the hijacking.  The first words out of his mouth were about how the FBI was commandeering the upper deck lounges on both aircraft and how their teams planned to board both aircraft in Frankfurt and use the lounge to conduct interviews of all of the passengers and PA 73 crewmembers on both flights during their passage back to the US.  He wanted names and details and directed that Pan Am set up interview schedules for everyone interviews and, essentially, provide staff service to the FBI throughout the flights.  I quickly said no, that the passengers had been through serious trauma and anguish and we were not going to add to that as we brought them home.  Further, the well-being of those passengers was the first and only priority of the Pan Am staff on those aircraft.  The conversation then through several stages of increasing noise and argument leading to my final phone statement that Pan Am would prevent the FBI agents from even getting either of the flights to pester our passengers and that they (the FBI) could meet with the passengers after we had brought them safely to the US – upon saying which, I hung up the phone.  In the end, no FBI interviews took place onboard, although we did tell passengers of the FBI interest in speaking to them and helped some volunteering passengers to meet with the FAA at a JFK hotel after their arrival.  I must admit to worrying for some time after PA73 whether I had that night put myself on an FBI list somewhere for special treatment should I ever happen to stumble in their direction.

“In the aftermath, there was great concern about the ongoing state of mind of Pan Am crews throughout the system on the new risks of hijacking.  Karachi was possibly the first time that a hijacking raised the possibility of crews and passengers finding themselves on a death flight – something that became all too real on 9/11.  Pan Am thus developed a campaign presenting all Pam Am crews with a detailed story of what the company had done to support the crews taken at Karachi.  A centerpiece of that was a 30-minute video-taped reenactment of the actions taken  at NYCOZ at JFK during the event, narrated various by me, Jim Duncan and Hart Langer.  I still have that tape on a shelf in what my wife calls my personal Pan Am Memorial Shrine, aka my basement office.

“I’m sure that everyone involved in aviation has a host of stories that they could tell about their experiences, but I will always take particular pride in my 19 years at Pan Am and the stories that members of the Pan Am family relate when they get together.  To me, Pan Am was a truly special place and time populated by special people doing amazing things.”

Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, cover pictured below, is a collection of essays  written by the people of Pan Am, the pilots, the flight attendants, the station managers and other staff who participated in the history making events that arguably made Pan Am the greatest airline that ever was—and certainly the most renowned and celebrated.

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

“On December 11, 1934, Pan Am’s founder, Juan T. Trippe in a New York City speech stated:

‘By each successive step, aviation is advancing to that potential ideal of a universal service for humanity.  By overcoming artificial barriers, aviation can weave together, in closer understanding, the nations of the world, and lift for the peoples of the world those horizons which have too long limited the prospective of those who live upon this earth.’

“These words are fulfilled in this book, an anthology of stories written by the people of Pan Am.  They were there at the important and news-making events that shaped the airline’s life.  Many of these events made headlines around the world, such as the carnage at Tenerife or the Lockerbie bombing.   And, with the recent fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, the name Pan American is still commanding space in news publications today.  Other events, among so many, might have just been a small item in the local newspaper or were never reported at all. 

“There were those employees who went beyond the call of duty; others were simply doing their job and in some cases there was loss of life of their dear friends.   The bottom line, big or small, heroic or otherwise, is that the events were important to the airline and its people.  This is the story we have to tell: The historic achievements of Pan Am as experienced and lived by its greatest resource – its people.”

Among the 71 essays are recollections of the inaugural flights of the Boeing 707 and 747, the flight that brought the Beatles to the United States for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and flights carrying dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.  Other stories recall Pan Am’s involvement in the rescue of orphans during the Viet Nam War and the final closing of its Saigon Station.  There are personal recollections of hijackings, Presidential Press charters, the sale of Pan Am’s Pacific routes and the merger with National Airlines.  Finally is the narrative by the pilot who was captain on Pan Am’s last revenue flight on December 4, 1991.

These stories and much more are included in this book and any student or fan of aviation will find a treasure trove of history and memories.

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

“[The book takes the] reader ‘inside Pan Am’ relative to its achievements and tragedies from a first-person perspective. * * * [O]ver 70 first-hand accounts . . . that lend authenticity to the human experience shared by employees at all levels of the company.  By the conclusion of the book, what becomes evident is that this unique US institution—long admired as ‘the American Flag’ by many foreign countries—has also come to represent a piece of the USA that has been sadly lost. This wonderful presentation of Pan Am revealed without barriers allows the reader to ponder a company that was only as great as the people who made it ‘The World’s Most Experienced Airline’”.

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

“The stories in this book make up what is essentially one important story – a story of dedication, heroism, and sacrifice – by an airline and its people during an important period of aviation history.  It is a story that needs to be preserved in history for future generations.  This book is an important step in that direction.”  

From Edward S. Trippe, Chairman, Pan Am Historical Foundation,

” . . . is a tribute to the legacy of one of the world’s great airlines and the men and women who for six decades were the soul of the company. * * * [This is] a compelling book, which through the words of its contributors captures much of the joy, adventure and spirit which was Pan Am.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

http://bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

More information about Pan American World Airways history can be found on the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation.

http://panam.org/