During this flight (Flight 114 departing New York to France), our captain was notified that France was on a national strike. We were only an hour away from Paris. The airport tower and air controllers were included in this national strike. The captain quickly made a general announcement over the speaker “all passengers fasten your seat belts immediately”. The key word “immediately” in the announcement was a code word to alert the crew of a major issue.
We systematically assembled in the galley near the cockpit of our 707 Boeing. The captain informed us of the national strike and the lack of fuel for a diverted landing. The captain was then instructed to land at a French military base outside Paris. We returned to our duties and waited for further instructions.
After short time, the chief purser approached me to inform me that I was selected to be the responsible person for the translations of landing instructions by the non-English speaking French military air controllers. Yikes! I was petrified. My initial reaction was all the visions that came to mind during the times I sat in the cockpit jump seat during take-off and landings. I would watch at the faces of the captain and first officer age by at least ten years during those most stressful moments. (The cockpit also staffed a navigator.) Why me? Well, my family moved to France in the late 1940’s after WWII. We lived in France for ten years and my brother, sister and I spoke french as natives.
I was still petrified. Finally, I bravely marched to the cockpit and we landed safely on the French military base in the middle of a parcel of land near their landing strips. For military security reasons we were precluded from leaving the plane until Pan Am sent buses for all passengers and crew.
It happened that my brother Peter and his family were living in Paris at that time. Before disembarking, my first thought was to bring my family provisions. I grabbed all the non-perishable and food items from first class to take to my brother. Agriculture and customs were no where to be seen, therefore, the provisions would be wasted on the plane.
When I finally arrived at their home in Neuilly, Anne, my sister-in law just marvel over all the goodies. It was like an early Christmas. They were so low on food supplies because all the grocery stores etc were also on strike.
Pan Am Story told by the Pan Am Stewardess who lived it,
"Have you seen this Betty?"
The front page of the paper had a story about a Saudi Arabian prince. He was a notorious party animal and playboy, and on this particular trip, it was alleged he had spent the week holed up in his hotel room with a go go dancer. It described how the prince was spotting a dime sized diamond on his ring finger and was going to be leaving Honolulu to go back to the mainland that day.
A few seconds later, one of the ground crew came in. "Just to let you know, there's an important VIP on board today and he has a large entourage with him," he said.
As soon as we saw the handsome young man in his long white robes we all knew straight away it was the prince from the newspaper.
I was working the first class galley that day, and was busy preparing the meal service for the flight when one of his entourage came in. He didn't speak very good English and the only bit I could understand was something about the prince wanting mashed potato.
"I'm dreadfully sorry sir,", I said, "but please tell the prince is potato croquettes with dinner today."
The man looked puzzled and shook his head. "No, no, Prince wants to learn mashed potato."
Then, much to my amusement, he started to knock his knees together in a comical fashion.
"Ah," I smiled. "Well tell His Royal Highness to come up here (first class galley) and I will see what we can do." I gathered all the stewardesses together.
We stood in a circle and started to dance. The Prince thought it was hilarious and soon he joined in with us. God only knows what the other first class passengers must have thought when they saw us all crowded in the galley having an impromptu dance with Saudi Arabian royalty.
reprinted with permission from "Up in the Air", by Betty Riegel
copyright 2013, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
She was found in a thrift shop, in an unsorted box called "photos". But NC823M tells a story. This Sikorsky S-42 joined the Pan American Airways Fleet in 1934 as a mail & passenger carrier for the Caribbean routes. The photo is hand-dated 1940, Miami.
On August 8, 1944, NC823M, was departing Antilla to return home. She crashed, hitting the sea, shortly after take off. There were 17 fatalities out of the 26 passengers and 5 crew. She remains fully submerged in Bahia de Nipe near the now defunct Antilla airport in Cuba.
Meet the "Hong Kong Clipper": not forgotten, she is home, here at the Pan Am Museum.
November 3, 1945 : Pan American Airways Boeing 314 (NC18601) "Honolulu Clipper" was on a repatriation mission when five hours after departing Hawaii, still flying across the Pacific Ocean, engine number three had trouble. Captain S. E. "Robby" Robinson was at the helm. An experienced pilot, he probably reassured his 26 passengers all would be ok. Then engine number four caught fire.
Well, this is a flying boat. So in the dead of night, about 650 miles east of Oahu, Captain Robinson decided to land the aircraft. Yes, land in the Pacific Ocean.
Thankfully radio contact was maintained throughout the flight and the merchant tanker "Englewood Hills" reached the clipper and removed all the passengers.
The crew choose to remain with the crippled aircraft. What happens next...well...
Pan American Airways Boeing 314 (NC8601) "Honolulu Clipper" was having a bad day. Just yesterday, she had to land in the Pacific Ocean due to engine trouble. Her passengers were safely evacuated, and her crew and other mechanics were working on her at sea with hopes to get her flying again. To no avail.
Ok. Get "Honolulu Clipper" back to safe harbor. The escort carrier "Manila Bay" had been towing her for seven hours...when the line snapped...
What happened next?
Ok. Call in a seaplane tender, the "San Pablo" to bring the now disabled Boeing 314 (NC8601)"Honolulu Clipper" back to the mainland safely.
She's having a bad week. November 3rd, 1945 engine trouble, had to land in Pacific Ocean. November 4th, can't fix the aircraft and the tow line bringing her back to shore, snapped. November 5th and 6th, aircraft floated around waiting for rescue.
November 7th, the "San Pablo" approaches "Honolulu Clipper" when, oh no, the ship and plane collided. The "Honolulu Clipper" was now damaged beyond repair.
November 14th, 1945, 8,000 flying hours, still floating, "Honolulu Clipper" was intentionally sunk to the bottom of the ocean by her rescue crew firing upon her.