Planes in the heart

One of the best parts about being a news blogger is hearing from people years after you’ve written a post, who have a personal connection with some element of it.

Meet John Fred Moore of Deland, Florida. He’s a former freighter pilot and, from what I could discern from his phone call today, a character with plenty of swashbuckling stories to tell.

Moore, who can’t fly anymore because of pulmonary disease, was spending time online last weekend, trying to find out whatever happened to some of the planes he once flew, when he came across this picture on this News Cut post.

“38-Charlie was a great plane,” he said, as if he was talking about a long-lost love.

The plane crashed in Eden Prairie in August 2009, killing two people aboard. He called to try to find out what happened.

“Engine problem,” I said. “And the pilot stalled it…”

“You can’t do that with a Twin Beech,” he growled. “If you lose one engine with the landing gear down, you’re not going anywhere but down,” he said, recalling the time off the coast of Bimini when a similar model developed engine problems. He had a parachute and jumped.

38-Charlie had a glorious life with Air Cargo Services out of Miami, he said. “That plane probably flew a few tons of dope in its career,” he said.

“And were you at the controls when it did?” I asked.

“If I was, I wouldn’t tell you,” he said, shortly before telling me of the hazards of flying at night in the Everglades in the ’80s.

“You had 20-35 planes flying overhead at any one time, and none of them had any lights on,” he said. “It was pretty easy to get into a midair.”

Moore is an old pilot with time on his hands, thanks to a lousy economy and cigarettes. “When I was a kid, John Wayne and Errol Flynn smoked cigarettes and I wanted to be like them,” he said. He can’t fly anymore and the flight schools around Deland are closed and the airport doesn’t have much business anymore so there’s no one to swap flying stories with now.

Like the one about the time he lost an engine while flying a load of PVC pipe and had to land in Cuba. “It was right after Grenada so I was pretty concerned about what reception I’d get,” he said. “But the Cubans were great. Better than the Jamaicans,” he said.

But it was 38-Charlie, he said, that still holds a place in his life.

“I got my Mile High wings in that plane,” he snickered, “if you know what I mean.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    I have a friend who was with the FBI in Florida in the 80s. He said they couldn’t be bothered to pursue people with suitcases filled with white powder, because they didn’t even have sufficient manpower to deal with all of the air-trafficking.

  • bsimon

    great followup