The Good Old Days
by Walter "Jorgy" Jorgensen
In January, 1948, I had a flight with Capt. A. Keith "Dobby" Dobson. Ed Mitchell was the navigator. It was a safari that went all over the continent and finally to Rome to pick up a load of immigrants. The airplane was 644, the worst dog in the fleet. It had been on lease to Transocean for 6 months and they had flown the life out of that airplane. I don't think they ever pulled a piece of tin off the bird to see what was going on inside. As a result when we got the airplane back everything was wrong. For one thing, it leaked. Gas leaked out of the wings, oil dripped out of the engines by the gallon and there were puddles of hydraulic fluid everywhere. All the landing gear struts had to be pumped up and in general, the airplane presented a sad, tired appearance. It actually seemed to sag. Even the honey buckets leaked! All the engines were very high time and were due for change. Well anyway, we staggered around the circuit, picked up the immigrants at Rome and continued on to Amsterdam, Shannon and Gander.
The immigrants did not know it but they were sitting on 5 coffins that we had also picked up at Rome. A wealthy Venezuelan family was on a motor tour in Italy. They got killed (all 5) in a high speed auto accident. We got the job to fly them home. The immigrants normally sat on the long canvas drop down seats along the side walls of the Airplane. We couldn't get the coffins in the belly due sacks of pax baggage. What we did was rig up the coffins as seats for the pax. We covered them with blankets and they never knew what they were sitting on!
Out of Gander we made a fuel stop at Hamilton Field in Bermuda. One of our radios had failed. I think it was an HF Transceiver. At any rate it was a black box about 1 foot square by 2 feet long. This was a no-go item; we could not proceed. On the ramp, there was a whole fleet of U.S. Army Air Corps C-54s just sitting there. Well, one of our suave, cool, crewmembers yanked the defective radio unit and calmly approached one of the C-54s. In broad daylight, he pushed up a boarding ladder, entered the airplane, exchanged radio units and came back to our aircraft with a serviceable radio. We left immediately!
It was night time when we arrived at Caracas, Venezuela. Pan Am Owned the radio beacon. They had heard we were coming and since they had no flights at that time, they shut the beacon off. Thanks a lot! Dobby had to "home" on a commercial radio station in town. Ed warned him that our ETA had run out and we were sure to ram the mountains in front of Caracas. We were not high enough. Just at that time, the solid cloud cover broke and the moon shone brilliantly. Ahead loomed a solid dark mass rising high above us. Just as Ed said there would be, mountains! Dobby made an abrupt course change while Ed searched for some landmark on the shoreline. The moonlight was a godsend. Ed found what he wanted and gave Dobby a new heading. Eventually we arrived at La Guaira Airport in Caracas. After landing, we caught holy hell for coming in at night. The airport was closed at night due to dangerous approach terrain. Of course we knew none of this. The taxi ride up the mountain to Caracas was another hair raiser.
Originally published in SPAR newsletter, September, 1997
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