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March 30, 2011

Pan American World Airways 4...

This is the fourth and final installment of my PanAm mini-series... A little flashback about Gramps first though. As I mentioned earlier, Gramps was based out of San Francisco and for many years lived in the Bay Area (before eventually moving to Grass Valley and commuting). I recall his beautifully landscaped back yard. It had a steep hill that he had huge steps/terraces carved out of so that he could garden all the way up. We would spend many a weekend with him weeding and tilling and planting on those terraces.

One weekend while working in the yard, Gramps stood up unexpectedly, clapped his hands to get our attention, and said "Who wants to go to a ball game, I feel like going to a Giants game today"! We washed up, packed into his car and headed off to Candlestick Park.


Mind you, I was not that "into" sports, but my brother S was... The Giants were playing the Dodgers that day, there were names like Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, Sandy Kofax, and others being called over the public address system in the stadium. These names meant little to me but my brother was ecstatic (he knew all their stats and looked up to all of them). I am not sure why the memory of that day (back in the mid 1960's) is embedded in my overstocked brain, other than it was so impulsive and spontaneous. It was a beautiful day and we all had a blast!

A few months after Gramps and Gramma came to visit us in Miami, my parents received a call to notify them that Gramps had been involved in a plane crash:

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Pan Am flight 816 ("Clipper Winged Racer") was an international flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Los Angeles, United States via Tahiti, French Polynesia, and Honolulu. On July 22, 1973 at 10:06 P.M. local time, the Boeing 707 took off from Faa'a International Airport in Papeete. Thirty seconds after takeoff, the airliner carrying 79 passengers and crew crashed into the ocean.

The aircraft had reached an altitude of 300 ft (91 m) and began a descending bank to the left; the bank increased excessively until the 707 crashed and sank into the waters off Papeete. Because the turn was made towards the sea at night, no visual references were available. The Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder are believed to have sunk to a depth of about 2,300 ft (700 m), and were never recovered. The cause was not determined, though it is believed that an instrument failure during a turn may have contributed.

The official report from the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) indicates that 78 of 79 persons listed on board were killed, with a single passenger, Neil James Campbell, seated in economy class, surviving his injuries.

Gramps was the Captain on that flight. He lost his life doing exactly what he loved... Additionally, after so many faithful years of service, Pan American World Airways ceased operations on December 4, 1991 (which oddly was my brother S's 35th birthday)... The passing of two legends...

Over and "Out" from my little world, in Portsmouth, VA

6 comments:

Trickle Down BS said...

Sad that your grandpa had to finish his illustrious career that way. But I am sure that he lived a very full life and imparted upon his family a lot of comfort, took them on trips where you all learned a lot and that would have not been possible if he had been an accountant in Podunk, USA.
By the way, did you get to learn any Portuguese? I am curious because I used to teach it in college.
saludos,
raulito

jaygeemmm said...

That's truly awful, Tom. But from what you've said about him, he was a wonderful grandfather. He died doing what he loved, tragic as it was.

This remembrance has been really cool to read. Thanks for the sharing.

Peace <3
Jay

Stan said...

I hated to see Pan Am slip slowly into decline the way it did in the late 80's. The last time I flew PA was in '89 flying back home for a visit from ATL to JFK. So sorry to hear what happened to your Grandfather.

Thomas (Tom) Rimington said...

Raulito and Jay: Thanks as always for your comments. I know Gramps is still flying a PanAm 707 somewhere!

Stan: Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. After visiting your blog, I now know where to go to exercise at least one of my muscles :)

raisinmama said...

Your grandfather took my Aunt Christine, Uncle Frank Nelson,my mothers' brother, and their four children, with him ..... doing the thing he loved best. My uncle won a trip to Tahiti for selling the most cars at his dealership and thought he would take the family for a "once in a lifetime" trip.... It was.

Keith said...

Hwy Tom -
I remember that incident well even though I was only 7. My father was a Pan Am pilot in San Francisco and coincidentally, our neighbor's were only that fateful Tahiti flight. I remember people kept asking my dad for answers, which of course, he had none. Pan Am brings back great memories. I was born in Berlin and then moved to Tehran and Sydney before setlling home in SF. Still there now. Great article, great memories. Sorry about Gramps, hazzard of the job. My father passed away a month after he retired from a brain tumor. I don't think professional pilots can live a subtle life of retirement, that's the way I choose to look at it.
Keith

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