Thursday, September 24, 2009

Six Days that Shrank the World

by Tom Emch

Forty years ago yesterday, the first flight of the China Clipper from San Francisco Bay to Manila held the attention of the world. It was front page news - a fledgling world radio hookup carried live programs on the departure and arrival in the Philippines, more than 8,000 miles away.

Here is the story of the day of departure, Nov. 22, 1935, as it might have appeared in a newspaper dispatch, and the story of the flight as one of the Pan American crew members might have told it.

ALAMEDA - Nov. 22, 1935 - The China Clipper, beginning a new chapter in American aviation history, lifted off the waters of San Francisco Bay today on the world's first scheduled flight across the Pacific. Her destination: Manila, 8,000 miles away.

More than 10,000 people here cheered as the Clipper rose to the top of the waves and flew under the Bay Bridge, still under construction, over the Marina, where another 20,000 people had gathered, and set a course for Hawaii on the first leg of a world-shrinking journey into history.

At the controls was Captain Edwin Musick, who, moments before had received his sailing orders from Pan American president Juan Trippe.

"Cast off and depart for Manila," Trippe told the veteran pilot, setting in motion a six-day flight that will take the Clipper to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.

During ceremonies preceding the take-off, California Gov. Frank Merriam hailed the event as an aviation milestone. He was followed to the podium by Postmaster General James Farley and the governor of the Territory of Hawaii, Joseph Poindexter.

Then, through special trans-Pacific radio facilities, the voice of Manuel Quezon, president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was heard. He forecast the "dawn of a new era for the Orient" with the coming of the Clipper ships.

Aboard the China Clipper, now flying directly into the retreating sun at a steady 130 miles per hour, the crew is busy monitoring the rows of flight instruments that describe the performance of the four Pratt & Whitney 850-horsepower engines.

Capt. Musick has told the crew they can change from uniforms worn for the departure ceremonies and get comfortable for the 21-hour flight to Hawaii.

Engineering officer Victor Wright breaks out a pair of red pajamas and slippers. Navigators Fred Noonan and George King shed their jackets and ties and roll up their sleeves.

There are no passengers aboard; seats have been removed to make room for cargo and mail - some 110,000 letters specially canceled as the first transoceanic airmail.

Now the Clipper is swallowed by darkness. A cloud layer has closed out the sea, 8,000 feet below. Radio operator Wilson Jarboe Jr. has just informed Capt. Musick he has raised the Coast Guard cutter Ithaca and confirmed the Clipper's compass bearing.

The wind drift is checked by crewmen dropping flares from the aft hatch. Navigator Noonan takes a sighting on the flares as they fall away into the sea, and notes the speed of the drift.

After midnight he is able to get a celestial navigation fix through a hole in the clouds. In a few hours, the Clipper will pick up the Hawaii direction-finding radio beam and "ride" it home.

At 10,000 feet the big Martin flying boat is drilling through the darkness. Suddenly dawn catches us by the tail. A flood of color spreads across the quiet sea.

Noonan makes another navigation fix and then joins the off-watch crew in the lounge for breakfast. First officer R.O.D. Sullivan has set up a table and arranged hot coffee, sandwiches and fruit.

The Clipper is 20 hours out of Alameda when Capt. Musick announces it is time to shave and get back into uniform.

After the watch change, it is Sullivan who is the first to sight the landfall. Beyond the clouds is the summit of Mt. Molaki, still more than 100 miles away.

Capt. Musick begins the long descent, sliding down the Hawaii direction-finding beacon toward Honolulu. Then, Jarboe raises the radio operator at Pearl Harbor.

Diamond Head looms up in front of us and all hands man their posts for the landing in the patrolled channel. We touch the water at 10:19 a.m. The China Clipper has traversed 2,400 miles in 21 hours, 33 minutes.

The welcoming committee at Pearl is small but enthusiastic. Clipper crewmen are presented with leis, and the naval officers - thanks to Capt. Muscik - are duly impressed with our fresh uniforms and clean-shaven faces.

That evening, under glaring lights, the ground crew inspects every nut and bolt on the Clipper and loads supplies for Pan American's ocean bases on Midway, Wake and Guam.

There are 21 crates of fresh vegetables, 9 crates of oranges and lemons, and 12 crates of turkeys for the first real Thanksgiving in the history of the colonists on Wake and Guam. There are also the spare sewing-machine parts, refrigeration machinery, baseballs, tennis rackets and light bulbs - all the items requested by radio from the ocean bases.

Before the dawn takeoff, 14 passengers come aboard - replacement for the ground staffs on the islands. We are able to take on the extra weight because the hop to Midway is only 1,380 miles, requiring less gas.

The last cargo hatch is closed and, at 6:30 a.m., the second leg of the flight to the Orient begins. The Clipper rises over Honolulu as daylight spills across the mountain peaks.

The Clipper will follow its flight plan over a string of tiny islands and coral reefs - Necker Island, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles and Marco Reef. The volcanic islands rise sharply out of the sea like a road map across the Pacific.

But beyond Marco Reef a weather front moves down on us, and we come in on direction bearings from the Midway radio compass. Then the clouds clear and we sight the atoll, white waves foaming on the beaches.

We circle the base at 500 feet and settle in for a landing. It is 2 p.m., local time, just 8 1/2 hours from Pearl Harbor.

Our reception is noisy - all Pan American base employees crowding around the little seaplane float. Airport manager Karl Lueder posts a guard over the stacks of mail and supervises the refueling of the Clipper. Departure for Wake Island is scheduled for daybreak.

The jump to Wake is the shortest leg - 1,252 miles - but the most difficult to navigate. There are no island signposts, and finding Wake will be like finding a pinhead on a vast map of the Pacific.

Noonan has to rely on dead reckoning. But about 350 miles out of Midway, Sullivan sights a Matson liner. It's the President Lincoln, 11 days out of San Francisco and bound for Yokohama. Jarboe confirms his position and the liner salutes us with three blasts from her whistle. A few hours later he hears the radio operator on Wake and we can ride the beam into the tiny ocean base.

Eight hours, 28 minutes out of Midway, the Clipper glides into a landing on the lagoon inside the atoll. We have put more than 5,000 miles behind us since leaving San Francisco Bay.

Ahead is Guam, then Manila.

Wake's governor and airport manager, George Bicknell, is on hand to greet us. He has planned a dinner party, but we are all so exhausted that the party has to be cut short so we can get some sleep before still another dawn departure, this time at 6.

There is a final predawn weather briefing and then we are airborne again, this time into dense clouds. Ceiling is 2,000 feet.

After we are aloft an hour Jarboe makes contact with the USS Chester, eastbound out of Manila. Position is confirmed.

Noonan comes up with a little trick to get additional radio bearings as we approach Guam. There is a Japanese radio station on Rota, an island just north of Guam. He sends out a "CQ" signal, meaning "do you hear me?" on the Japanese frequency.

As they answer, he gets a bearing on Apra Harbor, and then combines the two bearings for a positive fix. The Japanese, of course, aren't too interested in anyone establishing an airline across the Pacific.

We drop into Apra Harbor and touch down at 3:05 p.m., local time. The entire Pan American contingent is there to welcome us, and the news is that we won't be taking off again at dawn.

Someone in Manila has become confused by the day gained in crossing the International Dateline. The official reception ceremony is not until the day after tomorrow. They will not be ready until then.

The error provides us with a needed day of rest before the final 1,600-mile leg to the Philippines.

Departure from Guam on November 29, is at 6:12 a.m. Below us is the roughest sea we have encountered, giant whitecaps and a wind-tossed spray leaping high into the air.

Captain Musick takes the Clipper quickly to 6,000 feet, where we find a tailwind that enables us to make almost 200 miles an hour.

The Guam-Manila leg of the flight has a pioneering note. This is the first time anyone has flown over this deserted stretch of the Pacific.

Noonan is using the sun to get a fix on our position. The weather is beautiful and we are now at 11,000 feet, drilling along at 150 miles per hour.

Once again it is time to shave and put on fresh uniforms for the welcoming ceremonies. Sullivan is first to spot the high volcanic cone of Mt. Pandan. The rugged hills of Luzon appear off the port bow and beyond is Manila Bay, our final destination.

This is the Orient. In a few minutes, the China Clipper will have conquered the Pacific. Incredibly, the flight has been almost without incident and, except for the layover on Guam, right on schedule.

From the cockpit Capt. Musick can see the escort of military planes, dipping their wings in salute. Musick responds and gently lets the Clipper down into the channel. We are on the water at 3:31 p.m., local time. Air time from Alameda is exactly 59 hours, 48 minutes.

Taxiing up to the float, we can see thousands of well-wishers lining the Manila rooftops. There is some wild cheering as the mooring lines are secured and Capt. Musick steps down the ladder and onto the float.

President Manuel Quezon of the Philippines is there to greet him. Musick hands him a letter from President Roosevelt and it is immediately canceled by the Philippine postmaster general, marking the first airmail across the Pacific.

At the official reception and banquet at the Malacanang Palace, we are told more than 100,000 people watched the landing of the China Clipper. It's truly a big day for the Filipinos.

Everyone is happy except members of the press, most of whom can't believe the 8,210 mile flight was without serious incident.

"Didn't you get lost?" one of the reporters asks. "How about the thousands of miles of fog?"

Capt. Musick explains patiently that there were four master mariners aboard and two radio operators and that ground stations monitored most of the flight. "It would have been difficult to get lost," he tells them.

Newspapers hailed the flight as the elimination of the barriers of time and space and told the world that the vast Pacific Ocean had suddenly become smaller because of the courage of a handful of aviation pioneers.

But the real significance was that the China Clipper had cut 15 days off the best surface time from San Francisco to Manila and opened up the Orient to air cargo and scheduled passenger flights.

Within a year, Pan American inaugurated passenger service to Manila, and, in the spring of 1937, there was direct service to China.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle November 23, 1975

Friday, September 18, 2009

Around the World in Record Time

by Tom Emch

On May 11, at San Francisco International, shortly before the scheduled departure time of 6 p.m., a man will board British Airways Flight 286, non-stop to London. He will be wearing a wrinkle-proof suit, shirt and tie, and he will be carrying a small flight bag containing some toilet articles and three books. Unlike the rest of the passengers, he will be known to the captain and the cabin crew. They will know why he is going to London. In the tower another man will record the exact time the wheels of the aircraft, a 747, leave the ground.

On May 13, at approximately 11:05 a.m., Pan American's Flight 12, non-stop from Tokyo, will touch down at San Francisco International. The man with the small flight bag and the three books will be aboard, again known to the captain and the cabin crew. Another man in the tower will record the exact time the aircraft's wheels hit the runway.

If all goes well, it will be forty-one hours and five minutes from the time Warren Rairden left San Francisco until he returned. And he will have set a new world's record for an around-the-world journey on scheduled airlines.

The man in the tower will file the total elaspsed time with the proper authorities in Dublin, Ireland and Rairden's name will appear in the next edition of the Guiness Book of Records.

"You're right. It's crazy," says Rairden, who held the record in 1969 (forty-two hours, fifty-nine minutes) and lost it in 1971 to Millbrae busines Maurice Rosen (forty-one hours, thirty minutes).

"It's not a sight-seeing trip," he says. "Except for the takeoffs and landings, all you see is a lot of clouds. But I might get a view of the South China Sea out of Singapore."

Rairden's itenerary calls for British Airways to London with three and a half hours on the ground and then the British Airways Concorde to Singapore with a refueling stop in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. After one hour, five minutes on the ground in Singapore, he will take Japan Airlines non-stop to Tokyo (forty minutes on the ground) and board Pan American's Flight 12 for San Francisco. The round-the-world trip will cost approximately $4,000 and cover 20,962 air miles in four different aircraft. Total time on the ground will be about five hours and fifteen minutes.

One of the first questions Rairden is asked is: "Why?"

"First of all I want to get the record back," he says. "I promised myself a long time ago I would try it again when it became feasible; whenever there was a new schedule with the Concorde that would allow me to break the record."

He made his first attempt in 1964 (fifty-nine horus, thirty-five minutes) and failed the break the record. "I made some bad connections." Then in 1969, he did the London-Moscow-Tokyo leg on the Russian airline, Aeroflot, changing plans in Moscow in an incredible seven minutes, and broke the existing record.

"When I landed in Moscow in 1969 I could see my connecting flight on the ground, already boarding. I got off and saw this little Russian official standing there. I pointed to my wristwatch, held up my passport and said: "Tokyo.' He took me to a Russian girl in the building; we went through a couple of rooms and I had to sign my name twice, without knowing what I was signing. She took me back to the connecting flight and the little man was there with my passport, and I got aboard. The whole think took about seven minutes," says Rairden.

His other recollection of that journey was clearing customs back in San Francisco. There was an incident that will probably be repeated on May 13 when he returns from his record attempt.

"Well, they know you've just arrived non-stop from Tokyo and everybody's got bags to be opened. You stand there with only a flight bag with toilet articles and some books and they say: "Where have you been?"

"Then you tell the oficer that you've been to London and Singapore and he asks: 'Where is the rest of your baggage?"

"When you tell them it's all you have, you get this funny look. It's like they're thinking: 'This guy is an odd one, we'd better watch him.' It just looks totally ridiculous because it's not an everyday occurrence."

Rairden travels light because baggage would slow him down. He travels without visas; none are necessary when your're an in-transit passenger in a foreign country not intending to clear immigration.

He says he's going to buy a wrinkle-proof suit "to see if it is really wrinkle-proof. I wear a shirt and tie because that's just the way I am, but I loosen the tie and the first think to come off are my shoes. I try to get as comfortableas possible."

Rairden also travels first class all the way around. "It would destroy me to try it in coach. This way I get the best meals and wine on the Tokyo-San Francisco leg on Pan Am I'll have a sleeperette and I hope to get six or seven hours of sleep. I'll need it by then." He will go through twenty-four time zones and three nights while earthbound people in San Francisco will go through only two. "Eastbound they're short nights," he says, "Only three and a half to four hours apiece."

How about exhaustion and jet lag after flying around the world? Rairden says there is no jet lag because you return to the same place you left from before your ssytem has a chance to adjust to another time zone. "I fully expect to be in the office at 9 a.m. the day after I get back." His office is that of Portal/Albertson, a travel corporation in the Wells Fargo Bank building on Montgomery Street. Rairden is the vice-chairman of the firm, and says, "All the airlines involved will know I'm trying for the record. The various public relations departments will know of the attempt and probably the captains and cabin crews will know who I am. None of them will be eager to drop the ball."

There could be mechanical problems or bad weather, of course, and that's a chance he has to take. "May should be a good month ofr the attempt, but if I get socked in, I just have an airplane ride out, and no record."

When Rairden made his first attempt at the record in 1964, there was no trans-Siberian flight; he went all the way around on Pan American. In 1969, when he broke the record, there was a trans-Siberian flight, but no Concorde with a cruising speed of 1,250 miles per hour (twice that of the 747). Now there is a Concorde flight from London to Singapore.

His itenerary might change and eliminate the Japan Airlines flight from Singapore to Tokyo, if he can convince Pan American to hold their Singapore-Hong Kong-San Francisco flight for fifteen minutes. If he can bypass Tokyo, Rairden would make it around the world in thrity-seven hours, forty-five minutes, far ahead of the present record of forty-one hours, thirty minutes or more, becuase as a Pan Am spokesman says, "Flight 12 from Tokyo is usually fifteen to thirty minutes early arriving here."

Rairden's 1964 attempt was a promotion for the opening of Stevens Creek Boulevard from Highway 17 to Saratoga Avenue. He went from one end of the extension to the other the long way around. His 1969 record-breaking flight was another promotion. This time for the opening of the El Camino Highway in Santa Clara, where he was president of the Chamber of Commerce.

What does he plan to do in the air between San Francisco and San Francisco while traveling around the world?

"Well, there isn't much you can do besides eat, sleep and read. I'm takng along thre books on pro football. Paul Brown's autobiography and a couple of others.

"Fortunately, I sleep like a baby on airplanes."

Taken as a whole, the trip may be the most boring way in the world to get into the Guiness Book of Records.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle 1975

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Hijack

by Tom Emch

Last passenger to board, a middle-aged Chinese, hurries across the ramp and into the plane. Stewardess Jacque Stallman closes the door, buzzes the cockpit and tells Captain Dennis Waller they are clear. The Boeing 737 jet begins backing away from the gate at Sacramento Municipal Airport.

Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 710 for San Francisco. Scheduled departure, 9:50 a.m. One minute late.

Eighty-one passengers and a crew of five for a half hour commuter trip. Weather good; no problems. There never have been any problems on this run. But six hours and ten minutes later, Flight 710 will still be on the ground in San Francisco, parked at the end of Runway Nineteen Left with the passengers aboard.

Three people will be dead; two injured.

Six hours and ten minutes after takeoff from Sacramento, Captain Waller will be covered with the blood of a hijacker, Dimitr Alexiev. Hijacker Michael Azmanoff will be covered with his own blood, from four FBI bullets. E. H. Stanley Carter, from a suburb of Montreal, will be slumped over the lap of his wife, dead. Leo R. Gormley of Van Nuys, a heart disease victim on borrowed time, will be wounded, a bullet in his neck. And Victor Sen Yung, Chinese-American television actor, will be bleeding from a bullet hole in the small of his back, a player, for the first time, in a real life-and-death drama.

Hijackers take their chances; some are killed. But passengers, these are the first to be wounded by gunfire in a U.S. skyjacking. Carter, a sixty-six year old railroad conductor, is the first passenger to be killed.

Character actor Victor Sen Yung, who plays Hop Sing, the Chinese cook in the Bonanza Series, walks up to the PSA desk at the airport and buys a ticket for Burbank.

He was Parade Marshal at Pollock Pines the day before - the Fourth of July. Today he is going home to Universal City. He checks his bags through and with a friend, Jeff Wong, a Sacramento radio personality, goes into the coffee shop to kill half an hour.

The two are deep in conversation when Wong looks at his watch and says, "You'd better run." Two minutes to plane time.

Sen Yung flashes his ticket at the sole gate attendant and goes aboard. Immediately the door closes behind him. The tower clears Flight 710 for takeoff.

No one recognizes the actor in the sport shirt. He walks to the rear of the crowded plane and finds a seat back near the galley aisle seat on the left. Next to him is Daniel Kahawai who is traveling home to Honolulu with his wife and five children. Two rows ahead are Stanley Carter and his wife, Lillian. Behind are stewardesses Linda Heath and Lorraine Adamski, the latter a bride of two weeks who is still stealing glances at her wedding ring.

Passengers, including two Bulgarian immigrants wearing suits and dark glasses, are belted for takeoff. Captain Waller positions the jet at the head of the runway, releases the brake and the plane begins to roll. In a moment, Flight 710 is airborne.

The flight appears to be routine. Stanley Carter, happy, looking forward to settling down to retirement in Los Angeles talks to his wife. He tells the man across the aisle, Dr. Manuel Alvarez of Sacramento, of his plans. The 'No Smokng' sign goes off.

Stewardesses Heath and Adamski are forward: stewardess Stallman is in the rear preparing refreshments at the galley. It is a minute or two after 10 a.m. The seat belt sign goes off.

A man in a dark suit stands up, turns his back to the passengers and shows an automatic pistol to Miss Stallman. He forces her back behind the partition.

The gunman tells her he is taking over the plane, orders her to pick up the phone to the cockpit and tell the captain they are going to Russia. He wants the captain informed he will need two parachutes and $800,000.

Then, he tells Miss Stallman to summon the other two stewardesses to come to the rear and sit down. They walk to the back of the plane, unable to believe what is happening.

As the stewardesses go past, Sen Yung, the actor, lets his eyes follow the mini skirts, and he turns his head around until, from the corner of his right eye, he sees a man with his hands crossed and an automatic pistol in each hand.

One is pointed at the stewardess standing near the galley, the other is aimed at the seated stewardesses.

The realization begins to sink in - hijack - and Sen Yung slowly turns his head back and looks straight forward. The other passengers are unaware of the threat to their lives.

Dr. Alvarez, across the aisle and two seats forward of Sen Yung motions to a stewardess who has walked forward. He orders a glass of punch. It is some time before the punch arrives and he looks quizzically at the stewardess.

Is there something wrong? Alvarez wants to know. Linda Heath ignores him. Alvarez winks at her, half laughs because the question is foolish "Are we being hijacked?"

His expression chanes when the stewardess without saying a word nods yes.

Disbelieving at first, Alvarez is shaken by the grim nod from the stewardess. He thinks, but why hasn't there been any announcement from the captain? Why isn't someone acting alarmed? Perhaps they don't know.

He decides to take a chance. On the paper napkin that came with his glass of punch he writes a note and passes it to the woman acros the aisle.

It reads "I think we're being hijacked."

The woman, Sheila LaPoint of Mobile, traveling with her thirteen year-old daughter, Valerie, reads the note and turns to stare at Alvarez. She's speechless.

Behind them the hijacker, Dimitr Alexiev, says quietly to Sen Yung who has seen the automatics:

"Hey you, move across the aisle."

The actor doesn't move, pretending he doesn't hear or understand. The order is repeated and Sun Yung still doesn't move.

Stewardes Stallman comes up to the actor's row and leans over him "I've been told to tell you to move across the aisle - very slowly."

Now Sen Yung moves. Over to the right side of the aisle to the empty seat one row forward. He is now four rows from the rear, and another row removed from the hijacker and the stewardesses being held at gunpoint.

In the tower at San Francisco International, airport personnel, Federal Aviation Administration officials have received the message from Captain Waller: There is a hijacker aboard. Flight 710 is cleared for landing.

From the tower, the message goes to the FBI, the San Mateo County Sheriff's office, the Coast Guard. According to plan, the Coast Guard will stand by with a launch ready to take aboard agents.

The agent from the San Mateo substation is already on his way to the airport. San Francisco FBI agent in charge Robert Gebhardt has been notified and is moving toward the scene.

A command post is set up on the fourth floor of the Central Terminal with communications men, PSA representatives and the FBI. One agent will be stationed in the tower with the flight controllers.

Flight 710 touches down and the hijacker immediately tells Captain Waller he wants the aircraft parked at the end of Runway Nineteen Left. They park and wait... five minutes. Ten minutes.

Stewardess Stallman is employed by the two hijackers, still in the rear, to take verbal messages to the captain who is to relay demands to the tower. Captain Waller now knows there are two hijackers: they have three automatics between them.

In the command post, the demands are discussed: $800,000 in small bills, two parachutes, aerial navigation charts for Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

There is an offer of a larger aircraft, since the 1500 mile-range 737 could not make the trip to Russia without refueling. This is rejected by the hijackers.

Another offer is to provide an international pilot familiar with the route. With stewardess Stallman carrying the message, this offer is accepted.

The hijackers are told it will take time to raise the money, find a qualified international pilot. There is a tense moment while the anxious hijackers confer in the rear of the plane. They decide they will wait in the air. Captain Waller is ordered to take off immediately.

And twenty minutes after the first landing, Flight 710 is back in the air, in a holding pattern over San Francisco Bay.

Now the passengers know. They had not approached the terminal upon landing in San Francisco. And now they are back in the air - circling. But still there is no announcement from the captain.

The last vestige of doubt is removed a moment later. A voice comes over the public address system. It is Lorraine Adamski:

"Ladies and gentlemen." Her voice is calm and reasuring. "You have all been asked to sit still, face the front and not look back... because this may mean your life."

Several of the passengers sob; there is a murmur of voices that Sen Yung can hear. Stanley Carter starts to rise in his seat; his wife Lillian tells him to get back down.

The aricraft continues to circle, and then there is another announcement by the stewardess Adamski:

"Will all passengers place their hands on top of their heads. And do not look back or fear of your life."

In complete control of the aircraft, crew and passengers, the hijackers felt confident enough now to order the plane to land again. They had made their point; proved they were in command.

Flight 710 again lands, and taxis to the end of Runway Nineteen Left to wait for the ransom, parachutes and new pilot. But there is a difference this time.

The FBI's Gebhardt on the scene in the tower's fourth floor command post is ready to make a decision - to stop the hijacking.

It is now a few minutes before noon. On the plane, the hijackers get the word that it will be two, maybe three hours before the huge amount of ransom can be rounded up. The new pilot, a volunteer, will be available shortly. It's a stall, and Gebhardt will stretch the three hours to more than four.

Resigned to a waiting game, the hijackers, Alexiev and Azmanoff, still in the rear of the aircraft, tell stewardess Adamski to announce to the passengers they can take their hands from on top of their heads. They do, and it is a relief.

Some of them ask if they can smoke and are told they may. A few minutes later, there is a strange procession up the aisle of the plane.

Alexiev, holding a gun on stewardess Adamski in front of him, and one on Stallman behind him, walks up the aisle. Stallman, has her hands on his shoulders. If he feels her hands leave his shoulders, the hijacker has only to turn and fire.

The tandem trio reaches the cockpit and enters. This is the first time Captain Waller and First Officer Dick Peterson get a look at their captor.

It seems like only a few moments later to Sen Yung that he hears Waller's voice:

"This is the captain. Momentarily, we are expecting a truck to come and refuel the plane."

The fuel truck comes; the plane is refueled but few of the passengers are aware of it. One o'clock becomes two o'clock. The stewardesses serve coffee, punch. Drinks that were declined earlier are now accepted gratefully.

Passengers read, talk quietly. There is no hysteria. Only waiting. And some of them are beginning to get hungry. Flight 710 carries no food.

Sometime after three o'clock, Dr. Alvarez beckons a stewardess, asks if he can use the restroom. After a conference with the hijacker in the rear, he is told he can. If he gets up and walks slowly with his hands on his head.

Behind Alvarez and across the aisle, Sen Yung also asks the stewardess for permission to use the restroom, the one in the rear. Because he knows of only one hijacker, the one now up front.

Sen Yung gets up, puts his hands on his head and turns toward the back of the plane. Between the galley and the rear exit is the second hijacker with an automatic pointed directly at him.

The automatic follows Sen Yung into the restroom compartment until the door isclosed. When he opens the door to return to his seat the pistol is again pointed at his nose. He uses his elbow to open the door all the way and walks back up the aisle.

The actor sits down, talks to his seatmate, Daniel Kahawai. Small talk. Cigarettes. More waiting.

Then they hear the voice of the captain for the second time: He says the passengers will be allowed to leave the plane in fifteen or twenty minutes. And the words break the dam of tension.

Most of the eighty-one passengers, including many of the children aboard, break into applause. There are cheers and laughter. The stewardesses smile, answer questions and smile some more. Stewardess Adamski is happy for the passengers, but knows the crew will not be released. She slips off her wedding ring and gives it to one of the women who has befriended her.

"Keep this for me, just in case. I've only had it for two weeks."

The emotional relief is short-lived. Tension returns as the cockpit door swings open and those in the aisle seats can see the hijacker with the two guns, one of the captain and the other trained on the first officer.

Sen Yung sees this and thinks. There's still an armed hijacker in the cockpit and another in the rear. Something can happen before we're released...

He loosens his seatbelt so he can move quickly if he has to, he puts his seat in an upright position, and waits. And at that moment, there is more happenening than the actor can imagine. It's happening out on the runway and behind the parked aircraft.

It is a few minutes before 4 p.m.

A station wagon drives up to within one hundred feet of the plane and stops. In it are two FBi agents. One of them is posing as the international pilot, a volunteer from Pan American. That is what the hijackers have been told. His name is "Jim Williams."

Williams gets out of the automobile which immediately drives off on instructions of the hijackers. He stands and waits. he has a small suitcase, two parachutes and a cloth bag.

Stewardess Stallman, in the cockpit has been told to walk out to the "pilot" and tell him to strip so the hijackers can look him over for concealed weapons.

Suddenly, the passengers see a shaft of sunlight as the forward door is opened and the stairs are lowered. Stewardes Jacque Stallman is ordered to walk down the stairs and out toward the "pilot".

Before he can say anything to her she says evenly, "You don't look like a flight captain. You are to take your clothes off, right here, so they can see if you're armed." His .38 caliber automatic is in his pocket.

Williams says: "I am disappointed I don't look like a pilot. I'm an agent. Keep calm."

When Williams begins to take off his slacks, Miss Stallman turns around and for the first time sees three men in white coveralls under the belly of the aircraft. They are armed with shotguns. And they have arrived by water in a Coast Guard launch tied up directly behind the tail of the plane.

Four more agents, also armed with shotguns, are inching closer to the runway through the grass and dirt. The driver of the station wagon who brought Williams to the runway is also ready to make his move.

In the window of the cockpit, Alexiev can see only the stewardess and the new pilot. He is apparently unarmed and putting his clothes back on.

Williams takes his time dressing, fumbles with his cufflinks, stalls and keeps asking Stallman for details about the hijackers. She tells him one is in the cockpit, one is back near the galley. She describes in detail what they are wearing. She says she has been ordered to stand at the bottom of the stairs when they get back to the plane.

Williams says this is fine: "Stand there until you see the three agents under the belly charge. Then break and run under the plane."

They start back toward the aircraft, hurried along by Captain Waller who is motioning to them from the cockpit. Williams is carrying one of the parachutes and a cloth bag containing navigation charts. Miss Stallman is carrying the other parachute and the suitcase containing the money.

At the foot of the stairs, they both stop. Alexiev tells them to leave the parcels there.

He wants the new "pilot" to put his hands over his head and come up slowly. Williams starts up. Stewardess Stallman stands still, one eye on the three agents under the aircraft.

Williams enters the cabin. Alexiev, with both automatics trained on him, motions the "international pilot" toward the rear where Azmanoff behind a partition has him covered.

At that moment, the three agents under the aircraft make their move. Stewardess Stallman dshes for safety. Concentrating on Williams, Alexiev is caught by surprise as the first of the agents jumps into the cabin and fires a blast from his shotgun.

The single shot catches Alexiev full in the chest and he goes down without ever getting off a shot from either of his automatics. Williams, with his back to the action, dives for an empty seat and comes up firing at Azamoff in the rear.

The remaining hijacker is firing wildly at the agent with the shotgun and Williams. A second agent with a shotgun is firing at the ceiling to keep Azmanoff down.

Lillian Carter yells at her husband to keep down, but it is too late. Stanley Carter has been hit in the chest and is dying.

Two rows behind him, Sen Yung rolls to the right to get out of the way of the shooting. He feels the impact of a bullet near his spine.

Leo Gormley puts a hand to his neck and feels blood.

Dr. Alvarez, his seat in the reclining position, slumps down as far as he can. He is safe. Sheila LaPoint, across the aisle screams and throws her body over her daughter. Alvarez looks over at Carter and his wife. He hears Carter say:

"I'm going...this is it. Kiss me, Lil."

Williams finds the range and gets a few shots from the pistol into Azmanoff, who is frantically tring to reload.

But the luckless Bulgarian is already mortally wounded. He drops his empty pistol and grabs a knife. A final shot from Williams ends the hijack attempt, and the life of Michael Azmanoff.

Just as abruptly as it had begun, the shooting stops. Two hijackers are dead. So is Stanley Carter, whose retirement from the Canadian National Railroad ended a few weeks after it started.

Stewardess Adamaski, standing behind Alexiev when he was shot dead, is crying softly.

Passenger Sen Yung is helped up by Kahawai. The actor is bleeding bladly from a bullet that had entered the small of his back at the belt and lodged in his left side near the skin. He had saved his life by rolling right when the shooting started.

Leo Gormley is slumped in his seat, semi-conscious. A bullet has passed through his neck, missing the vital arteries. Dr. Alvarez is helping him. The doctor, a Sacramento chiropractor, looks up at an agent and hears him say to no one in particular.

"We got the sonofabitch."

Another FBI agent tells Sen Yung. "It's all over now. A stretcher is coming."

In the cockpit, Captain Waller, splattered with Alexiev's blood, is on the microphone talking to the tower:

"Ambulance. Need an ambulance... we have a passneger hurt..."

(The official Federal Aviaiton Administration recording of this conversation lists the time as 4:03 p.m.)

Tower to PSA 710: "Is any of the crew injured?"

"Negative," says Waller.

The tower asks Waller to confirm passenger injuries and wants to know about hijackers.

Waller says: "There are two of the passengers injured ... the one up front, (the hijacker), is disabled. I think he's ..." The tape goes blank at this point.

Linda Heath tells the passengers, "You can go now."

Flight 710 is over.

Passengers are already leaving by the front exit, down the stairs. In the rear a stewardess activated the emergency chute and kicks it free of the door as it inflates. The wind whips the chute off the runway until one of the agents anchors it with his body.

On the runway, stewardess Stallman rushes up to an FBI agent and hugs him: "Thank God you came." She kisses him, and one of the passengers. Some are laughing; some sobbing.

Sen Yung is helped out of the forward door and down the stairs on a stretcher. He is told a helicopter will take him to the hospital. but he is placed in an ambulance, after a few minutes, and taken to Penninsula Hospital. Gormley also is taken to Penninsula Hospital. So is Carter, although, he is quite dead.

The bodies of Michael Azmanoff and Dimitr Alexiev are placed on gurneys, moved to ambulances and taken to Chope Community Hospitals where autopsies will be performed.

It is 4:20 p.m. Six hours and thirty minutes after Flight 710 dearted Sacramento Municipal Airport.

The passengers are taken by bus and car to a room in the terminal and briefly interrogated by FBI agents. Then, they are moved to the Hilton Airport Inn to talk to newspaper and television reporters.

Mrs. Arthur Stone of Detroit recalls that she began to cry when the first shots were fired.

"Some said 'hit the deck,' " says Larry Jenkins of Sacramento. "I was down on the floor, fast."

"I was scared to death," remembers twelve year old Aaron Marcus of Tiburon. "I started crying and shaking."

"I just fell on the floor between the seats, " says Bill Corcoran of Sacramento.

One of the passengers, Franz Lingnau of El Dorado Hills, had little to say to the reporters. The next day he was to board another PSA jet for the return trip to Sacramento. This one would be hijacked by an AWOL Army private first class, Francis M. Goodell, who later gave himself up to authorities. Lingnau thus became the first man to be hijacked twice on consecutive days.

By nightfall, passengers with destinations other than San Francisco found connections. Mrs. Stone went back to Detroit: Dr. Alvarez proceeded to Dallas. For most of them the episode was over, a vivid memory; but now safe from harm, it was also something to joke about, relate to friends at home.

Mrs. Stanley Carter, whose husband was slain by hijackers' bullets, awaiting the arrival of a son from Vancouver. Together they would make funeral arrangements, and later the widow would return to Montreal.

For the crew, Captain Waller, First Officer Peterson, stewardesses Stallman, Heath and Adamski, there was a break in their flying schedules, a week's rest, adn then back to work.

That is as much as is known about Flight 710. FBI reports on the incident are closed pending the outcome of lawsuits.

Of the hijackers there is even less known. But there is a skeleton of information pieced together from neighbors, and from what the FBI has made public.


The FBI, after the hijacking, routinely checked Sacramento Municipal Airport for an automobile belonging to either Azmanoff or Alexiev.

They found none and suspected immediately there was an accomplice. Suspicion was backed up by evidence when William Scott, San Mateo County coroner's investigator, found a slip of paper on the body of Alexiev.

It read: "Fifty-two degrees, seven minutes north; one hundred twenty-four degrees, ten minutes west. Altitude 3100 feet, runway 6210 feet lng." The location was an abandoned airstrip in the wilds of British Columbia. Puntzi Lake.

With the cooperation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it was discovered that a charter pilot from Campbell River, on the east shore of Vancouver Island, had flown three men to Puntzi Lake on June 25, and on the day of the hijacking he had again been chartered to fly to Puntzi Lake. With a man who said he was a real estate speculator.

The man ordered the pilot to take him back to Campbell River "in a hurry" on the morning of July 6.

On July 13, eight days after the shootout at San Francisco International Airport, Lubomir Peichev, identified from a picture, was arrested as he left work at an Oakland machine shop. Peichev was established as a friend of the slain hijackers and a former pilot for a Bulgarian airline. He was traced from Bulgaria in 1967 to Massachusetts, where he married Sheila Tierney. They moved to San Francisco in 1970. At the time of his arrest, Peichev was estranged from his wife and living in a small Oakland hotel.

Earlier, a search of the luggage aboard Flight 710 revealed a suitcase containing two inflatable plastic dummies, apparently to be dropped as a decoy.

With the capture of Peichev and the evidence of the scribbled note and the plastic dummies, the FBI was able to build a theory:

The hijackers had apparently planned to take over the PSA plane enroute to San Francisco, and bargaining with an offer to release the passengers, obtain the $800,000 ransom.

From San Francisco, the aircraft would head for Puntzi Lake, and somewhere along the way, the dummies would be parachuted out to draw off pursuers.

The 737 and crew would be abandoned at Puntzi Lake were Peichev was waiting. Then, the three conspirators would commendeer the light plane and leave the pilot behind.

It is believed they planned to fly to Hope, a small Canadian town near the Washington State border, abandon the charter plane and disappear. With the $800,000 ransom.

Azmanoff, officials said, fled Bulgaria to Ankara and would up in a refugee cmp in Naples before coming to the United States in 1968 under the sponsorship of the National Council of Churches.
He had served in the U.S. Army as a truck driver, and settled in the Bay Area in 1970. He once had an address on Clement Street, and had been seen by friends with Alexiev.

Dimitr Alexiev had come to the Bay Area in 1970 from Bulgaria, via Beirut and New jesey. He became a "permanent resident" on March 2, 1971, and later married a divorcee with three children, Mrs. Joan Day.

The family lived at 2588 Atwell Place, Hayward. Before moving to Hayward, Alexiev had lived in San Francisco and worked for the Yellow Cab Company in Pacifica. He had been arrested once, for soliciting passengers at San Francisco International Airport. The firm he worked for did not have an airport franchise.

Whether or not the three Bulgarians had known each other in their homeland is not known. What they planned to do with the ransom is not known.

Alexiev and Azmanoff were both twenty-eight years old when they died. Peichev was twenty-nine when he was arrested. His crime carries a minimum sentence of twenty years impresonment, maximum penalty - death.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle September 1972

Tasting Wine With The Experts

by Ambrose Blake (Tom Emch)

The Grand Ballroom of the St. Francis Hotel is a large room. It's so large that you could set up tasting tables for some eighty wineries around the perimeter, a massive cheese table in the center and still have space for a few Olympic equestrian events in between.

But you don't gallop around at a formal wine tasting, glass in hand, from the Chardonnay to the Johannesberg Riesling to the Gewurztraminer just because it's free. You have to do it with style and not appear thirsty.

Keep calm, I told myself. Just because there are more than eighty wines here, you shouldn't panic. Treat it like a cafeteria line and don't load up at the beginning. Make some careful decisions.

Best to look over the Wine Institute's listings, read the descriptions and note the adjectives: "full-bodied, crisp, tart, smooth, lingering finish, fruity, spicy, intense, balanced" and, of course, "elegant."

Immediately, I decided to forget the fruity and intense and concentrate on the smooth and elegant. Why fool around?

Decisions can be a problem at a big wine tasting, particularly when faced with about eighty-five of them. So you have to make some heart-wrenching ones - like don't ry to sample everything: twenty or so should do the job.

Although I've been to a few wine tastings, I'm still not up to speed on the proper etiquette. I never say the right thing, like "fine nose," or "lovely bouquet," or "marvelous balance." Becaue I don't know what these things mean.

I used to say things like: "wow", or "yummy," or "ugh." But people frowned at me. So now I just smile - no matter how bad it tastes - and say, "Mmmmmm." They can take it anyway they want to.

My first time out in this league I was astonished that the tasters were taking a sip and tossing the rest into buckets. Why throw away good booze?

Another source of wonderment at tastings: Why all the cheese and bread? Most everybody has already had lunch. I was told you should take something between the Cabernet and the Chenin Blanc so you don't get your palate confused.

You can learn a lot by just observing the professional tasters and wine experts. Best thing is to pick out someone who looks like he knows what he's doing and follow him around; do what he does and say what he says.

Some observations.
* The pros hold the glass by the stem, instead of holding the glass like it's a steering wheel. Have no idea why.
* Experts swish the liquid around in the glass before tasting it. Some of them hold it up to the light.
* Some people even close their eyes while tasting. Seems like you could spill a lot of booze if you miss your mouth.
* The cognoscenti say things like "big," or "young" or "good potential." But if you don't know what you're talking about, it's best to keep your mouth shut and just drink; and gobble some cheese occasionally.

There are a lot of other fine points of wine tasting etiquette, but I've forgotten most of them. I know you're not supposed to belch, or spit or drink the whole glass, which seems sort of silly, if you find the one you like.

I usually sneak away from the crowd when I find a good one and toss it off in one gulp; but this is not considered proper.

Tasting the really bad ones is even more difficult. You never make a face, even when the acidity is so strong your mouth puckers up. Smile.

But to get back to the Grand Ballroom at the St. Francis and the Wine Institute's "Tasting of California Wines."

A knowledgeable friend told me to look for the offerings of the small wineries: Simi, Geyser Peak, Grgich Hills, and Dry Creek. But I got confused after the first three or four glasses and a bit too much time at the Korbel Champagne table.

I do remember the priest at the Novitiate Winery table saying something about "first crushings" and a "new relase". I think it was a Riesling.

The Concannon people told me their Rkatsiteli is from a Bulgarian and Russian grape. The stuff was so good I lost my poise and drank the whole glass.

At the Carey Cellars table (it's a new winery in Solvang) the girl behind the table offered a Sauvignon Blac and said it was "nice for picnics."

I said "Mmmmmm," and smiled.

I was behind an expert at the Geyser Peak table. He tasted the Pinot Noir Blanc and said, "A little young."

So I tasted and said: "Youngish."

(See how easy this wine tasting routine is? It gets easier as you go on to the fifteenth or sixteenth variety.)

The man at the E. J. Gallo table looked strangely at me when I said, "Surprising complexity," after tasting the Sauvignon Blanc. So I decided to stick with my standard noncommittal comment.

Someone told me that the Robert Mondavi Napa Fume was selling for sixteen dollars a bottle in Tokyo and I decided to move up in the world. I tried it and said, "Mmmmm." But with a Japanese accent.

From there it was a short jump to the class of the show: the Domaine Chandon Brut, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pino Blanc.

I sipped. Great bubbly, I thought to myself. But I said only: "Mmmmm. Something here I can't identify. Would you fill it up again?"

The Chandon man started talking about the champenoie method and the cuvees and rotating bottles and the second fermentation.

Didn't understand a word of it, but the champagne was beautiful. Not Dom Perignon, mind you, but excellent.

The tasting was all down hill from there. The Chardonnays tasted flat and the Sauvignon Blancs were too blanc. Even the cheese tasted different.

It was much later that I learned I had been at a special press tasting and among the tasters were experts from a dozen or so magazines and newspapers - Copley News Service, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Rocky Mountain News and Harper's, to name a few. These are the people who write about wine for a living and have all the etiquette down pat.

I hope they enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle 1979

Friday, September 11, 2009

One More Hour to Play

by Ambrose Blake (Tom Emch)

Now that we're back on Daylight Savings Time and the sun is coming up later and you're going to work earlier, we can sit back and contemplate, logically, what has been done to our lives - by an act of Congress.

Last Sunday you turned your clock ahead an hour so you lost an hour's sleep. One full hour was stolen from you. If you were in a Las Vegas casino, where they have no clocks, you probably didn't notice the theft. But most of us noticed right away. We were told by our stomachs.

Instead of getting hungry (or thirsty, as the case may be) at noon, we found we were really not ready for the filet of sole until one o'clock, at which time we had to be back in the office.

I know people who have developed a clockwork-like thirst. They get a tremendous dryness on the roof of the mouth at precisely five in the afternoon, and they've found they're not enjoying their cocktails at four o'clock by the sun's time. Then later, the real thirst strikes them on the freeway, in the middle of the commute. It's a terrible inconvenience.

We all know that Mother Nature doesn't like being tampered with. And it's easy to see the enormity of the tampering if you can imagine yourself one of the nation's millions of cows. Just ask yourself how you would like it if some farmer tried to milk you an hour ahead of your regular time. It's a well-known fact that Daylight Savings Time makes for some very uncontented cows, and a measureable drop in the milk supply.

A lot of European countries go along with this madness. There's British "summer time" which started April 6. A total of seventeen countries switched at that time, but Portugal, Poland and Czechoslovakia held out for two weeks.

Switzerland, a country that knows something about clocks, and Yugoslavia have both voted against Daylight Savings Time, making them an island of sanity on a continent out of synch with the solar system.

This causes confusion in border towns like Geneva or Trieste. French businesmen miss dates with their Swiss mistresses and Italian smugglers are late for their rendevous with Yugoslav sailors. It can also get complicated if you want to call your banker in Zurich. If youre' not careful, he will be gone for the day.

It all started with Ben Franklin way back in 1784. Ben was at a dinner party in Paris and admired a particular oil lamp and the light it gave off.

He got to thinking whether the oil consumed was in proportion to the light it afforded. The thought kept him awake until well after midnight and at six in the morning a sudden noise awakened him. He was surprised to find the room filled with light. He soon realized that it was the sun beginning its early rise that time of year, and he immediately began calculating the sum the city of Paris would save by adopting an "early to bed, early to rise" policy, using sunshine instead of oil lamps and candles.

Franklin figured Paris would save sixty-four million pounds of wax and tallow in six months by getting up an hour earlier. An idea was born, but it was ahead of its time. Frenchmen have never been fond of getting up early.

William Willett of Chelsea, England, gets the credit for the campaign and adoption of the daylight saving system. The plan was described in his book, Waste of Daylight.

The British Parliament rejected his idea several times before finally adopting it in May, 1916. They were a year behind the Germans, who had adopted the system in 1915 to save fuel during World War I. In 1918, the U.S. Congress passed a bill authorizing advancing clocks one hour from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. It was repealed in 1919 because farmers (and probably their cows) objected strongly to readjusted work schedules.

In 1942, during World War II, the U.S. again adopted Daylight Savings Time and after the war it became a state option. California had the system off and on and finally passed a proposition adopting it in 1949. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Tim Act and ended the confusion between states and even portions of states.

The normal six-month cycle is from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. But this was changed in 1974 when Congress put the U.S. on year-around saving time for two years to save on energy. In 1976 the normal cycle resumed.

There is still scattered opposition to the system, particularly in the rural South and Southwest and in the Midwest. And there are a lot of urban people who object on the grounds that their metabolism gets upset twice a year. They don't always know when they're supposed to be hungry or thirsty, and they like to sleep late anyway.

It was Ben Franklin who started tinkering around with solar time; it was William Willett who sold the idea to Parliament, and the U.S. Congress made it a law here.

But in San Francisco, only a fool will wait until one o'clock for a drink when the dryness on the roof of his mouth tells him he's thirsty at noon.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ten Seconds of Terror

by Tom Emch

Dry snow, the kind the powder-hounds love, began falling early Monday at Alpine Meadows, the flakes landing noiselessly on a crusted, unstable Sierra snow pack. It snowed again Tuesday morning while avalanche control teams worked the upper slopes with doubles, two dynamite hand charges taped together. The blasts left tell-tale craters near the top of Beaver Bowl, below the wind-curled cornice on the ridge.

Mike Pisani and Bub Luttman of San Mateo saw the craters as they entered the bowl from Wolverine traverse. In the diminishing visibility they thought the mountain and the powder were theirs alone, and they started down. But minutes earlier Steve Woodbury and Todd Osborne had traversed across Beaver to a knob on the north side where they stood resting on their skis. They saw a party of seven skiers below them entering Lower Beaver. That's when it happened.

Sheriff's deputies and investigators from the U.S. Forest Service put the time at 11:55 a.m. The survivors - Pisani, Luttman, Woodbury, Osborne, Bob Happle, Tom and Jim Donnelly, Ron Stanford and four others skiing Lower Beaver - won't forget the day: Tuesday, March 2, 1976.

Woodbury thought it sounded like an airplane at first. "We turned around and saw this cloud of snow coming down. It got louder, rumbling and crackling, and we saw the seven skiers below us where the bowl wraps around ... and they weren't able to see it and it was coming fast. I yelled 'Avalanche' and by the time I yelled it again the slide was by them."

On the other side of the bowl, Pisani and Luttman never heard the warning shout. But they suddenly discovered they weren't alone on the mountain. From above them they heard yell: "Go for it." At the same moment, Luttman recalls, "I looked over my shoulder and saw a big poof of snow and heard a thundering sound. I had less than a second to think 'It's going to get us; steer for the trees.'" His partner Pisani, remembers yelling: "Grab a tree."

The words "Go for it" were the last uttered by one of the three men who died in the avalanche at Beaver Bowl, a massive slide that tore loose a 200-yard wide wall of snow more than five feet high and sent it crashing down the slope, over the lip and on down half a mile to the top of Kangaroo chairlift at a speed estimated in excess of fifty miles per hour.

John Robert Freitas, David Paul Machholz and Dennis Joseph Graber were swallowed up by the white monster and buried without ceremony just above the lip of Beaver. Freitas and Machholz died of asphyxiation. Graber died of a broken neck, according to the Placer County coroner's report.

Pisani and Luttman were immediately caught by the slide and "swam" on top of it toward the trees to their right until it completely took them, slamming Pisani into a tree and covering him with three feet of snow and debris and burying Lutman beside him.

Bob Happle, a Reno fireman and a trained paramedic, the leader of the party of seven skiers on Lower Beaver, heard the warning shout from Woodbury and turned sharply to his right, out of the path of the avalanche.

Happle and his party made it to safety, coming to rest on the edge of the slide path. Pisani and Luttman were not so lucky.

"There was no chance to out-ski it. No way. If you were anywhere in the bowl you were committed," says Luttman. "We started swimming to keep on top of it and then it just started to take us, rolling us over and over. The slide carried us eighty, maybe one hundred yards. We tried to steer, but lost control."

Pisani, excited, begins to talk: "My hat and goggles were ripped right off my face. I landed right on a tree, really hit it hard. I just held on to the tree and the snow was still coming over me. It was building up on top of me. Then it was over and I heard Bob yelling his head off."

It had been less than ten seconds from the time the avalanche caught them until they started digging out.

Luttman recalls: "I was down about three feet, sprawled out, and I stuck my hands up over my heard. I couldn't see my hands, but could see faint light. And I broke out and began yelling for Mike. I thought: My God. Where's my friend?"

"About fifteen seconds later I saw him burrow out like some kind of mole."

Luttman's safety straps had held; he had both his skis and his pole straps had moved up his arms to his elbows. Pisani had lost one ski. They found it later, about twenty-five feet away, sitting right on top of the slide.

It was snowing harder now. But from their vantage point high on the north side of the bowl, Woodbury and Osborne tried to assess what had happened.

It appeared likely that the seven skiers below them had made it to safety. At least they could count six. They had seen two skiers get caught in the slide on the south side of the bowl and saw them dig out. But were their more?

They agreed they had seen a flash of yellow in the middle of the slide by the lip.

"After the slide we were hesitant about skiing right down on top of it because something else could break loose," says Woodbury. "We waited a few moments and then traversed back into the bowl, skied over to the two guys who dug themselves out.

"On the way over, Todd found a pole sticking out of the snow, just one pole."

Osborne and Woodbury came up to the two dazed men who were checking themselves for injuries.

Luttman recalls the conversation:

"Do you have all your equipment?" they asked me. "Yes." "Is everyone in your party accounted for?" "Yes." "Did you see anybody in the slide?" "No. But we heard someone above us yell: 'Go for it.'"

Luttman says, "They kept asking if we had our poles because one of them had found a pole in the slide. And we agreed that somebody could be in the slide, buried."

Minutes later a ski patrolman and a girl came up to the four survivors and Osborne told him about finding the single pole in the middle of the slide path. The ski patrolman told Pisani and Luttman to go down to the first aid hut and then report to Summit House.

Pisani, in the first aid room, discovered he was spitting blood and had probably inhaled some snow. The bleeding was stopped and he was told to go to the clinic at Squaw Valley and have his ribs x-rayed. Luttman and Pisani wen to Squaw; the ribs checked out okay and they returned to Alpine Meadows to make a report.

Before Luttman and Pisani left the slope and immediately after the avalanche, Bob Happle and his party, five of them Reno fireman, counted noses. Everyone was accounted for and unhurt. Jim Donnelly had been knocked down and his brother, Tom, had jumped right out of his bindings when the slide burst by them. But no one was hurt.

Happle says they checked everyone's recollection and agreed they had seem somebody in the slide, at least one and perhaps two skiers.

He says, "We looked down the hill to make sure no one was caught below us and then Ron Stanford and I - we're the two best powder skiers of the group - raced down to the bottom of Summit.

"I grabbed the ski patrolman's phone and said: 'I want to report an avalanche in Beaver Bowl. There's one down and maybe two. An observed burial in the slide. We're not sure of the location.'"

Stanford, meanwhile, told the lift operator what had happened and Summit chair was immediately closed to the public.

Up on the slope of Beaver Bowl ski patrolmen were already organizing a hasty search. From their training they know that the chances for survival for an avalanche victim are only 50 per cent after thirty minutes under the snow.

Below them, at the foot of Summit chair, another party of ski patrolmen, plus Happle, the fireman, got aboard the lift to ride to the top and traverse across Wolverine and into Beaver near the fracture line where the avalanche had started.

Within twenty minutes, Placer County sherif's deputy Sgt. Dave Rickert had been notified at the Tahoe City substation; so had Don Huber, U.S. Forest Service officer at Truckee, and probe lines being organized with ski patrolmen and volunteers. Soon there were nearly 200 people engaged in the search.

Collapsible metal probes and ten-foot aluminum conduits were issued to the searchers and it was explained that the probes would be done in unison on command of the probe line leader.

The work, agonizingly slow and painstaking, began near the bottom of the slide and worked up the slope toward the lip of Beaver where the pole had been found. Avalanche rescue-trained dogs were brought in from South Lake Tahoe and Truckee to aid in the search.

Happle recalls: "The first body was found about an hour after we started the search. Someone in the top probe line found the body about ten feet from the edge of the gap we had skied through before it all broke loose."

The snow, says Happle, was packed solid by the slide and searchers had to use shovels to get down to the victim buried about four feet from the surface.

The skier was carefully removed from the snow and immediately giving mouth to mouth resuscitation and heart massage, but he failed to revive. A doctor in the search party pronounced him dead at 2:15 p.m.

The body was identified as John R. Freitas, twenty-two, of 663 Denslow Lane, Hayward. He had suffocated.

A second victim was discovered fifteen minutes later and resuscitation appeared to be bringing him around. "We were able to get some color back into his face," says Happle, who alternated with a ski patrolman and a doctor on the mouth to mouth resuscitation. After more than an hour, the desperate attempt to revive the skier was abandoned, and the doctor declared him dead of asphyxiation. Both victims had been found facing downhill in the prone position.

The second victim was identified at first as Robert Maccholz of 3025 Tosca Way, Concord. That was the identification in his billfold. It was later discovered that the body was that of David Paul Machholz, twenty, who was carrying his older brother's papers.

The search continued throughout the afternoon in the belief that there might be one more victim. An extra hat and a pole had been found, but it was not certain who they belonged to, Happle says.

Roberta Huber, one of the searchers with an avalanche-trained dog, recalls working the slope with her German Shepherd, Bridget, until nearly 9 p.m., and then returning the next morning to resume searching.

She says that on the day after the avalanche probe lines were again organized and there were about 150 searchers, including ski patrolmen who worked at other ski resorts and many volunteers from the public. Also among the searcher were members of the sheriff's Nordic Ski Rescue Team and trained avalanche control men from the Forest Service's Truckee Station.

The all-day search Wednesday proved unsuccessful. It was no longer a question of saving the life of a buried skier, they were looking for additional bodies. On Thursday and Friday they searched again, and late Friday, after combing most of the side area with probes, sheriff's deputies officially called the search off.

Also on Friday, Forest Service investigators, with the aid of half a dozen eyewitnesses including Pisani, Luttman, Osborne, Woodbury and Happle, reenacted the roles each had played. The eyewitnesses were quizzed on exactly where they had been when the avalanche began and what they had seen.

Two other eyewitnesses, Dave Braker and Jeffrey Childs, both of Chico, were not available for reenactment, nor were most of the Reno firemen in Happle's party. But all had turned in written reports.

From this and from written reports taken the day of the tragedy, investigators were able to reconstruct the separate events. But they were unable to determine if there were more bodies in the slide.

Sgt. Rickert says that all cars in the Alpine Meadows parking lot were accounted for and there were no missing persons reports.

But the following day, with a handful of ski patrolmen and volunteers, the search went on. And this time it was successful.

Alpine Meadows ski patrol director John Waite recalls that the third body, that of, Dennis Joseph Graber, twenty-three, was found Saturday morning by ski patrolman Gary Halkens.

Graber had evidently rolled an undetermined number of times after he was caught in the avalanche. He was found in about six feet of hard-packed snow with his legs under him, his body bent backward and his neck broken. Placer County sheriff's deputy, Sgt. Steve Mikol, was notified and in his report listed the cause of death as accidental. The body was removed to the county's Central Morgue in Augurn. Graber's address was listed as Kingswood, a condominium at King's Beach, Tahoe City. It was established that he was skiing with Frietas. Machholz was evidently skiing alone, according to investigators.

All three bodies were found within thirty feet of each other, all of them just above the lip of Beaver Bowl, near the ski pole found immediately after the slide by Osborne. Roberta Huber was there when Graber's body was found. She says there were about fifty ski patrolmen in the search party, many of them from other ski areas. She says the body was found ten feet from the still-visible hole that had been Freitas' grave four days earlier.

The site was abou t450 feet from the fracture line on Upper Beaver where the avalanche started. Waite says the Beaver Bowl slide was a Class IV avalanche, a big one. Avalanches are classified on a scale of one to five, and Waite says he has never seen a Class V, not in ten years as a ski patrolman.

The recapitulation is still going on. Bernie Kingery, the mountain manager at Alpine Meados, who has seen many avalanches and been caught in a few in "ridge pullbacks' while dynamiting, can't figure it out.

Waite says they fired a few founds from the recoiless rifle mounted on Gunner's Knob into Upper Beaver the day before the avalanche and hand charges were exploded the morning of the slide. "We didn't think Beaver was unstable," he says.

Woodbury says that two or three skiers on a high traverse - the three victims - had broken it loose.

Happle says no. When he went back up Summit chair to help in the search there was only one set of traverse tracks into the bowl. He thinks his party of seven, Osborne and Woodbury, Luttman, and Pisani had all entered the bowl at the same spot.

One experienced ski patrolman said it was an "act of God."

Neither Pisani nor Luttman think the slide was started by a skier, although there was someone above them. They estimate they were forty feet from the fracture line when it burst.

Was it snow conditions?

Avalanche expert Monty Atwater of Sausalito, author of a book on avalanches, told reporters it was due to the freak weather conditions throughout the winter.

"What has happened is that with the fair weather and light intermittent snowfalls, the snow metamorphosing process has been reversed.

"The grains of snow have become larger instead of smaller, causing a highly unstable snowpack. We call this reverse metamorphosis process "depth hoar". And when it exists there's no telling what the hell the snow will do," he says.

Carl Westrate, regional director of the U.S. Forest Service recreation division, says there were layers of depth hoar and dry snow and underneath that was a layer of ice formed in January or earlier. The early snow was very non-cohesive.

Because part of Alpine Meadows is within Tahoe National forest and the U.S. Forest Service has the responsibility to see that avalanche control procedures are up to federal standards, Westrate's report will wind up at the Forest Service's Alpine Snow and Avalanche Research Project headquarters, Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Snow conditions were unusual enough to cause Atwater to announce that there was grave avalanche danger in the entire Sierra for the balance of the ski season. And the Forest Service responded by posting avalanche warning signs on popular cross-country ski trails and snowmobile routes.

Alpine Meadows ski patrolmen, busy with avalanche control work before the tragedy, redoubled their efforts afterward, blasting snow from packets and cornices on sixteen different routes in the ski complex. "There are more closure signs on Beaver Ridge than ever before," says mountain manager Kingery.

One week after the avalanche, Beaver Bowl was still closed to public skiing. The slide had blown out all the deep powder and left a hard surface. But you could step off the slide path and sink into dry snow up to your waist. And new snow had not yet covered up the holes dug to retrieve the bodies of the three victims.

In the aftermath, the survivors still wonder how they were saved.

Says Woodbury: "It dawned on me a few hours later that I could have died. Todd and I were the first ones to traverse across the bowl. It would have made a pancake out of me.."

Happle: "We had just skied through the gap and heard the sound wave that preceded the slide. We were going pretty fast and to the right, or it would have caught us."

Luttman: "I still dream about it... being caught in it and swimming or the trees and then I'm buried in the snow, and I wake myself up."

Pisani: "We were in it only ten or fifteen seconds but the force of it was unreal. I wouldn't have believed it."

Ski patrol director Waite, interviewed a few days after the slide, still appeared stunned: "It was a freak. Usually the slides don't go over the lip of Beaver, they stop. This was just too much snow."

He said the vertical drop of the avalanche was more than 1000 feet and the total distance it ran was 2600 feet. No one can say exactly what the speed of the slide was. But he says no skier could have outrun it. (Avalanches in Alaska have been clocked at more than 400 miles per hour.)

A Forest Service snow safety pamphlet says: "Avalanches are complex, natural phenomena. Experts do not fully understand all the causes. No one can predict avalanche conditions with certainty... Play it safe."

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle April 1976

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reminiscenses of a Chili Freak

by Ambrose Blake (Tom Emch)

Chili, also spelled chilli and chile, is a term used to describe, usually, the international dish chili con carne. South of the Border it is used to describe salsa, a peppery sauce found on restaurant tables, with which intrepid Mexicans smoke up any number of national dishes.

In a purer sense, chili refers to the chili peppers, the bright red chile colorado, the potent light green chile jalapeno and others of varying degrees of tongue-scorching strength.

In most American restaurants, the word "chili" on the menu refers either to chili con carne or chili with beans, which is nothing but chili con carne with less meat.

There is power in the word chili. You can test it for yourself on friends. Few people are neutral on the subject.

"Good chili?" says a colleague. "Only my aunt Sophie knows how to make chili."

Another says: "I had a bowl of chili once in El Paso..." He can still remember what it tasted like, describe the restaurant and the brand of Mexican beer he used to put out the fire.

Chili arouses emotions. It is controversial, beautiful or damned, and nearly always memorable, if made right.

This chili freak, brought up on peanut butter sandwiches, weak vegetable soup, potato pancakes and other bland Midwestern fare, recalls with mind-searing accuracy his introduction to chili.

We had stopped for lunch at a small roadhouse on the highway from Torreon to Monterrey. My companion, a Mexican who knew about such things, ordered machaca, tortillas, beans and chili. I did likewise. The chili came in a separate bowl.

What was impaled on the fork was transferred to my mouth and - surprise - I had to stifle a scream. Perspiration burst forth on my brow and my Mexican friend burst out laughing.

From that moment on, I have been very respectful of anything called chili, whether it comes as bright colored peppers, dark red with beans, or with meat and onions and garlic.

Chili, almost everyone knows, produces an effect when it hits the palate that is the opposite of cottage cheese. It is much more wonderful, intriguing, changeable.

Chili can be subtle, but it is more often seductive. As with women, one should never come too close without caution. If care is exercised, the rewards can be fantastic.

Most of my adult life I've been eating chili. It has been a holy quest that has taken me into the barrios of many countries, into the little greasy spoon restaurants found near railroad and bus stations, into the Latin Quarters of all the major cities of the United States.

It has been a search for the PERFECT BOWL OF CHILI. And the search must go on, because somewhere there is a bowl better than the last, seasoned precisely for my palate, with the right amount of meat, the most tender beans and exactly the right balance between garlic, onions and chili powder.

Although the perfect bowl of chili is perhaps unattainable, there are some that have come close.

John's Chili Parlor in Houston, deservedly famous throughout Texas, dispenses a potent but not overpowering bowl of chili that has a following among oil tycoons and visiting Arab shieks. King Hussein of Jordan had some brought to his suite in the Rice Hotel a few years back.

The Rice Hotel itself serves a bowl of chili that has some renown as a hangover cure, particularly if ordered in the coffee shop at two in the morning along with scrambled eggs.

The Texas Cafe in Brownsville serves chili with authority, so do a number of small restaurants in Austin, Texas. Austin, of course, is the stamping grounds of Wick Fowler, known as the "Chili King" for his internationally famous homemade chili. Fowler once beat out H. Allen Smith in a chili cook-off in Terlingua, a Brewster County ghost town. (Smith later claimed that Fowler had cheated, broken the rules at the last minute and influenced a judge.)

Fowler has given his basic recipe - but not some of the secrets - to the Naitonal Press Club in Washington, D.C., one of the few places in the East where you can get good chili.

Fowler once cooked his chili in the White House for LBJ, and his chili was served to President Ordaz of Mexico at Johnson's ranch on the Perdernales River.

Chili, far from being just a peasant dish of no particular merit, has had an effect on the cuisine of some important cities.

Dave Chasen's Restaurant in Los Angeles got its start serving a notable bowl of chili late at night to pub crawlers and theatrical folk a little short in the pocket. It's still on the menu, although Chasen's is now a gourmet restaurant.

And that little-known fact is what got this piece started. I happened to mention one day that I was a chili freak, and my editor says: "You know Chasen's used to be a chili joint. Why not find out if there's a good bowl of chili in San Francisco."

That did it.

I have now gone through about eighteen bowls of chili in The City, and I haven't found one yet that ranks much higher than the lunch counter chili at Union Staiton in Chicago.

But there is at least one good bowl of chili in San Francisco, in an unexpected place. More about that later.

In the Mission District small authentic Mexican and Central American restaurants abound, yet you won't find an outstanding bowl of chili.

Why? Frederico Hernandez explains: "Chili? You mean salsa. That's what we call chili. If you are talking about a Mexican dish. Chili con carne is an anglo dish. You will not find much chili con carne in the Mission."

Verdad. He speaks the truth.

At one of the most respected Mexican restaurans in the Mission, Guadalajara de Noche, 2981 24th Street, chili beans is not on the menu. A waitress looked confused when I asked for some.

At Mario's, a fine little Mexican restaurant on the corner of Bush and Taylor Streets, there is likewise no chili. Chili rellenos, yes. But chili con carne, no.

Some of the popular Americanized Mexican restaurants in the Avenues - El Sombrero and Tia Margarita on Nineteenth Avenue - serve what San Franciscans have come to think of as good Mexican food. But they have no chili of the Wick Fowler or H. Allen Smith variety.

You can get an occasional bowl of chili beans on Mission Street, however at El Zocalo, 3230 Mission, at The Chili Bowl, Mission and 22nd Street. And on 24th Street at 2817, the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor. Except for the latter, one suspects the chili beans came out of a can, like Hormel's. There are of course many other places in the Mission and many small places on Howard Street and all over town that serve chili beans. They're from a can and an honest cook will tell you so.

One proprietor of a small Howard Street establishment admitted: "Ours is from a can - Monarch. Sometimes we make it here, but it's a lot of work. Good chili you have to cook a long itme." He adds that most customers can't tell the difference anyway.

He's wrong. Any discriminating chili eater can tell the difference immediately. And there are some experts who can even tell you the brand name of the chili powder used in the recipe.

No decent bowl of chili in San Francisco? There may be others, but I have found only one. In a restaurant that has the honesty to use real diced beef, instead of taking the ground meat shortcut. And pinto instead of red beans.

The place is Talmale Joe's. It's hidden away at 203 Stevenson Alley, off Third Street. Open for lunch only. Afficionados call it simply "Joe's". Some fans claim Joe has the best chili rellenos in town; others show up weekly for the chili colorado, served only Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Strictly speaking, the chili colorado is not a bowl of chili. It comes on a plate with rice and beans on the side. But the meat and sauce is almost identical to that in Joe's dish called chili beans.

This masterpiece arrives steaming hot in a standard size chili bowl full to the brim with tender beans and diced beef, seasoned just enough so that you know you're eating the real thing.

There is still another chili dish at Joe's: straight chili. This is simply and beautifully the sauce, the beef. No beans. There are customers who work at Pacific Telephone and other offices in the neighborhood who swear by Joe's straight chili and chili beans, giving them the highest accolade of all:

"Better than I make at home."

This is one thing all chili freaks have in common. They've all tried making it at home, controlling the ingredients and cooking time and seasoning themselves to suit an exacting taste.

One of the best homemade chili recipes is this one based on the Wick Fowler recipe, but toned down from the original four-alarm firehouse concoction to maybe three alarms. Even at that you are advised to have some cold beer standing by if the roof of your mouth is tender.

(serves eight)

1 1/2 C pinto beans * 3 slices bacon * 1 1/2 lbs. chuck, diced into 1/2 inch cubes * 1 clove garlic, split * 1 T flower * 1 C tomatoes, peeled and sliced * 1 1/2 T. chili powder * 1 T. salt.

Wash beans, cover with cold water and let stand overnight. Next day, drain beans and place in large saucepan with two quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer about one-and -a-half hours. Drain and reserve one cup lidquid.

Cut up bacon slices, saute in Dutch oven two minutes. Add meat which has been browned and drained of all but one tablespoon of grease. In separate pan saute onion and garlic until tender, about five minutes. Mix in flour and add bean liquid, tomatoes, chili powder and salt. Add meat and bacon and simmer covered for one hour. Then, add beans and simmer one hour more, or until meat is tender.

The above recipe is peculiar in that it must be followed exactly to obtain top results. Even minor deviations destroy the delicate balance. Also it is wise to remember that while it is easy to add chili powder to make the dish hotter, it is impossible to take it out. Be careful.

There is a variation that some chili freaks claim is acceptable, even necessary. They add one teaspoon of mashed cumin seed to the onion and garlic before simmering. This produces a distinctly South of the Border flavor that you may find desirable.

Fanny Farmer, the Boston lady and cookbook writer, has a recipe for chili con carne that calls for red kidney beans instead of the authentic pinto beans. She also allows the use of tomato juice instead of fresh whole tomatoes. This is pure blasphemy, and a transgression serious enough to get her cookbook banned in Brewster County, Texas.

Of course there are differences of opinion amoung chili experts. H. Allen Smith insisted the final product be of a soupy consistency. Fowler leans toward the meat stew school of thought.

Both are very careful with the potent chili powder. Too careful for a true chili freak.

My own feeling is that I want to know I'm eating highly seasoned chili. I want to feel the perspiration jump out on my forehead, and then reach for the cold bottle of Carta Blanca or Dos Equis beer.

A bowl of proper chili is not a dish for the timid. It is for the brave. And you worry about the bicarbonate of soda later.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle April 1973