Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bob Wilbur, Eastern Arilines Captain, and his first officer, James Hartley, were true heroes

It was a regular day in March, on a milk run shuttle flight from Newark to Boston, Eastern Airlines flight 1320.  At the controls was Captain Bob Wilber, a good friend of my father’s, a fellow Eastern pilot who visited us often to play golf.  Many years later, his arms still show two large scars from his hands to his elbows, a lasting reminder of multiple gunshot wounds he survived.

Normally, gunshot wounds to the arms would not put you in grave danger. Not unless you happen to be the captain of a commercial flight at 5,000 feet altitude after your co-pilot was mortally wounded and a hijacker was in the cockpit with a gun intent on killing you and crashing your airplane. This was the situation Captain Wilber faced on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, 1970.

John DiVivo boarded the flight at Newark Airport bound for Boston’s Logan airport, with 72 other passengers and a crew of five. Everything was normal until passing over Franklin, Ma. About 30 miles south of the airport. At that time passengers paid in flight for the shuttle and were guaranteed a seat, without a reservation.  If more passengers showed up that the plane held, they would pull out another plane. When the flight attendant asked for the $15.75 one-way fare, DiVivo said he didn’t have it and pulled out a .38 caliber revolver.  He demanded to be brought to the cockpit. Captain Wilber told the flight attendant to tell the passengers they were being diverted but everything would be fine. The pilots expected him to demand to be taken to Cuba “That was the destination of choice” said Wilber. This was long before the suicide hijackers of today. But DiVivo  said “take me east.”

He then made his intentions clear that he wanted the pilots to fly until they ran out of fuel and crash the plane, so the co-pilot, James Hartley, grabbed  for the gun and a struggled ensued.  Hartley was shot in the chest, mortally wounding him and he collapsed. DiVivo then shot Captain Wilber in each arm, causing him to bleed profusely. Even in his critical situation, Hartley suddenly arose and was able to wrestle the gun away from DiVivo and shoot him three times before relapsing into unconsciousness.   But it was not enough. Although wounded and slumped between the two pilots, Divivo arose after passing out and began crawling at Captain Wilber, attempting to force a crash. The gun had fallen on the center console and Wilber was able to retrieve it and hit DeVivo over the head, finally knocking him unconscious for good.

Hartley had died from his wounds, and Divivo was slumped over, hampering Wilber’s ability to fly the plane. It is amazing how some people can overcome almost impossible odds in a critical situation. Wilber was bleeding profusely and his arms severely damaged and weakened by the bullets, with one slug remaining in his arm. Despite his severe injuries, he managed to remain conscious, declare an emergency with ATC and land the plane safely at Logan. 

A reporter at Boston.com said, “that was one hell of a piece of flying," an understatement if there ever was one. Once on the ground, Wilber keyed the mic and said to the tower “My pilot is shot-shot.  Where the hell do you want me to park this thing?”   He never mentioned that he was shot.

Wilber had extensive damage to his arms with tendons and muscles severed and much loss of blood.  He spent almost a month in the hospital. Devivo was immediately arrested and eventually hung himself with a necktie in his jail cell awaiting trial.

Other than some major scarring, Wilber regained use of his hands and arms over time, and I can attest to the fact that he could hit a golf ball pretty well when I played with Bob and my father years later.

It certainly was a tragedy that James Hartley lost his life in an effort to protect the passengers and crew aboard flight 1320.  He was the first person to be killed in a hijacking in the United States.  James Hartley and his captain were proclaimed heroes and the Senate passed a resolution that commended them both for “extraordinary heroism and competence.” Wilber said that he was only doing his job. No training or simulators can prepare a pilot for what they went through, and I can only imagine that the 73 passengers are glad that these two pilots were at the controls

Bob Wilber is retired now and lives in Florida– he said “I don’t think about the flight that often” “But when I do think about it, I think about Jim Hartley, he was absolutely a hero.” Eastern renamed their training center in Miami “The James Hartley Training Center” and installed a bronze plaque detailing his heroism.

We throw around the word hero frequently today, and it has lost some of the original meaning. But Bob Wilber and his co-pilot, James Hartley, were truly real heroes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

When Planes had Lounges

Back in the 1970's and early 80's, many wide-body aircraft had first class and even coach lounges. This was true even on domestic flights. While some of the premium international carriers have them today on the AB 380, they come with a very hefty priced First Class ticket, usually over $10,000 each way. Back in the "good old days" the lounge came with the price of a regular first or coach ticket. American Airlines had a coach lounge in the back of the 747 which they mainly used on trans-con flights, which had tables, lamps, couches, and  piano.  All for the price of a coach ticket, just like today.

Below we have our friendly first class flying nut friend John Barrett in the front of a Pan Am 747SP on flight 100 to London from JFK, seat 1J, his favorite seat, with his favorite drink, Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch. This plane may have an ugly interior, but blame that on Braniff, the carrier that Pan Am leased the plane from.

Below are Peggy and I returning from our first Orient trip on Northwest flight 4 from Hong Kong to Tokyo to Seattle - we are in the upper deck of the 747 in the first class lounge after climbing the spiral staircase. We both tried to give it our best "spoiled snob" look for the photographs.  It was 1976 and I got passes for us from the Northwest Sales for $123 total - And that was for 7 flights in first class JFK-SEA-HND (Tokyo Haneda, Narita had not been built yet), HND-TPE-HKG then return HKG-HND-SEA-JFK.  We could have paid $88 for coach.  Hmm, let's see, it would save us $35 total or $5 a flight to downgrade.  It was a really tough call.

Friday, March 13, 2015

 Northwest flight 4 SEA-JFK 747-100 (note the doors that open on the cowling at higher RPM's
 United DC-8 51 parked at LAS
 TWA Boeing 707 departing London Heathrow
 Same flights approaching BOS
 United 218 departing LAS for ORD and then EWR - Dinner to Dinner in First Class!
 United 992 DC8-61 ORD-HNL May of 1975
 United 218 in flight out of ORD
 National DC-10 near Lake Mead
National flight 474 out of LAS headed for IAH