The Earl E. Myers Story
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Flirting with Fate
My accumulated life experience as a jet-qualified, world-traveled pilot, increasingly put me in a position where I received offers and requests to perform missions that sometimes had “obvious,” and sometimes “concealed,” risks and threats involved in their accomplishment. There are many stories which are a part of my life story that must remain untold. This also includes some missions involving National security matters that also must remain beyond the horizons of my commentary. My rules of operation and conduct were always IAW our National laws and, to the extent I could discern and sort them out, common International laws.
The first two stories, which follow here, provide examples of how honorable and well-intended International air transport service can so easily get out of hand. My constant efforts to comply, fully, with the spirit and intent of National and International flying regulations and the laws of our Land were always there to help me extricate myself from these swampy sinkholes one can step into, no matter how alert and preventative-action-oriented one may strive to be. Working within the law, has been, and always will be, the way to go.
The Panama Caper
While I was employed by Hal DuPont flying out of Miami, I received a call at about 1400 hours on December 15th, 1969, to take 6 persons to Tuacuman Airport in Panama. A Lear 25 was used. Departure was 1700 hours with 5 males and one female passenger who was the daughter of the principal. The assigned copilot was a "Lover Boy" and he fell in love with the female during the flight. During the final phase of flight, as we neared Panama, the group leader asked us to land at a USAF Airfield. I replied that we need prior permission to do so. He insisted and I did call and spoke with the tower. The request was denied. He then stated, "you're an Air Force Colonel and you should be able to land there. He asked me to try again, which I did, and permission was again denied. A light bulb in my brain lighted up and I asked myself how did he know I was a former USAF pilot and what my rank was?
On landing at the Panama Airport, I proceeded to the VIP Lounge at the request of the principal passenger. He paid for the flight with new $100 bills. The total was right close to $10,000. He also asked if we were returning to Miami that evening and I responded "no SIR" as it had been a long day. He obtained a suite at the Panama Hilton as well as transportation for us. We were going to refuel before going to the hotel, but found that the refuelers had gone home for the night. Transportation was furnished in a 7 passenger limo with the agreement that the limo would wait until we cleaned up and then chauffeur us to the most exclusive restaurant and night club in Panama. Our dinner was excellent and then it was back to the hotel. We hit the sack about 0200 hours in a 2 bedroom suite that was tops. About 0330 hours we heard a very loud noise and doors of both of our bedrooms were torn off their hinges. There were 6 military soldiers standing over us and they were all yelling, "ARIBA ARIBA houramismo "which is ‘get up’ in Spanish ‘and right now’. We ARIBAed real fast.
They cuffed us and "escorted" us from the hotel. As we passed through the lobby I found a Pan Am Captain that I was acquainted with who was departing for Miami. Previously, while in the bathroom, I had written a note just in case I could pass it on to someone. Fortunately, I was able to palm the note to him. The note stated that we had been detained and to notify FAA and the State Department.
|We were tossed in the slammer and, would you believe, it was the female portion of the jail, as all the male cells were overflowing. I will not go into detail as to what these girls did to show us that they wanted us to have sex with them. We had a strip show like I had never seen before. About 0700 hours we were ordered to follow the guards which we did. We were put in a dimly lighted room like you see in the movies for interrogation purposes. After about one hour of questioning the room was lighted. In front of us was the most ugly man I have ever seen in my life. I recognized him as Manual Noreaga. He was the # one man in security for Panama under President Trihllio. The President incidentally was in Mexico at the time. I refused to answer any questions that were asked even under severe threat until a representative of the American Embassy was present. Man, did I catch it with the threats.
About 0830 hours the security officer arrived from the Embassy. We were finally released after we were asked how we were paid. I replied “$100 bills”. “Were they new and uncirculated?” “I don't know but”, I stated, “they we're new”. We were released in the custody of the security officer as we preceded to the Embassy. After arriving we were questioned individually. The first thing that the security officer said was “Col. Myers we know who you are but who is the other pilot with you?” I stated his name and that he was also a retired USAF pilot. I was asked where the cash was that I had been paid for the trip. I stated that it was in the safe deposit box at the Hilton.
To back up a little. While being interrogated by Noreaga and since I would tell him nothing, he wanted to put us in chains by the wrist and leave us hang until we were ready to talk. There were other things that he wanted to do and my Spanish being Castilian, and his was different than I had ever heard before, I had great difficulty understanding his words. He had advisors that told him not to do anything that could cause an International incident. His Spanish, like Mexican Spanish, is different from Castilian; but, I could understand enough that I knew I didn't want it to happen to either of us.
Now back to the Embassy. The Embassy wanted to examine the payoff money from the flight. I gave the security officer the key and a notarized paper and he went to the hotel and recovered the money. The bills were new, uncirculated, and all in sequence by serial number. After a lengthy debriefing we were invited to lunch at the Embassy but we declined. A staff car was provided for transportation back to the airport. We also were advised not to approach the aircraft until the guards were all gone. As we were driven to the airport, we discovered there was an extra edition of the local Panama newspaper being sold on several corners. We asked the driver to stop and obtain a copy for us. It had a picture of a Learjet on the front page. Guess who's Lear? Also it showed the picture of 3 men who were sent before a firing squad at noon and were executed. That was 3 of the 5 men on board our flight to Panama.
About half way to the airport the copilot told me he wanted to stop at a motel for some food. It was the motel where the female passenger was staying. I told him not only no, but Hell no. You can eat snacks that are stored on the aircraft. He insisted again and I told him If you want to stay, you will need to provide your own transportation back to Miami as I would take the aircraft by myself. That got his attention and we proceeded on to the airport. As we were arriving the guards were just leaving. Good for us!
The copilot was told to go and refuel the aircraft while I filed the flight plan. Well, he depleted the battery power and I had to order an APU (auxiliary power unit). Finally the aircraft was ready and on engine start all was normal. Taxi clearance was obtained and our flight plan was approved. We smoked out of there "TOOT SWEET" (right now) on the 16th of December. The next thing to worry about was to be blown out of the sky. After all the low level flights that we had performed in the Air Force, that training was successfully applied once again. The aircraft was no higher than 500 feet above the trees until we were over water. Another leg was at 500 feet above the water until we were sure we were out of range of the Panama radar. We then made a climb to 39,000 ft. Miami Center was finally contacted and we gave them our position report.
On landing at Miami International and taxing to the parking spot, there was a large group of people waiting. It was the press from I don't know how many newspapers. Customs and Emigration were there to meet us as was DuPont. After we were cleared, the press swarmed us like flies on a dead fish. I begged them not to use my name and, I'll be darned, they complied.
Now back to DuPont's office we all went. DuPont was flabbergasted. I told him that the Panamanians had the money for the flight. He didn't bat an eye. Then I presented him with the money from my briefcase. He was astounded that we were able to bring the money out of Panama. Again the Good Lord was with us.
The Bogota Dilemma
In May of 1984, I received a telephone call from an aviation company and jet charter service in Las Vegas. They had a Lear Jet that had been impounded for having drugs on board. The aircraft was located at an airport on the North Coast of Columbia. According to the company, the drugs were medication for an injured pilot of theirs. I decided to accept the mission.
I asked my sponsors for a round trip ticket from Miami to Bogota and return. At first it was refused but later a round trip ticket was in issued. The aircraft had been sitting there for over a year, according to my source at the American Embassy in Bogota. I was not informed of this during any conversation with the charter company in Vegas. Before I left Miami, I checked my directory of Lear owners and operators and found that there was a Lear dealer just a few miles East of Bogota.
Upon arrival, I rented a room at the Tequendama Hotel in Bogota. It was an old, well- established hotel. The lobby had a large setting area with all of the goodies a person would want. There was more intrigue in that Lobby than any hotel that I had stayed at before. I went to the Lear Dealer the next day and he answered one heck of a lot of questions that I needed answers for. I made arrangements for him to fly me to this location in a small prop aircraft to look at it from the air and take a multitude of photos for future reference. Flying over the location, it appeared that all 5 tires were flat. The aircraft was tied down with chains with locks in place. Continuing with my homework, I also found out that the fuel tanks had been drained and raw cement was put in the wing and fuselage tanks.
It was not only a no-go situation, it would have been difficult to haul it off by truck and then to no avail. Back to the airport East of Bogota we go. Before going back to my room I had a libation in the hotel lobby and then went on to my room to clean up for dinner. On arrival at my room door I could see light from under the door and wondered why. I inserted the key and the light went off and the door jerked open and I was grabbed and handcuffed on the spot. Then the interrogation began. About 2 hours later they released me. They never did identify themselves. I moved to another room on the opposite side of the hotel. I was not about to make any telephone calls to Vegas for instruction.
I returned to the Embassy and debriefed the staff on my excursion and subsequent events. I had the Embassy make return reservations for me under an assumed name. I know for sure I had a "friend" shadow me the entire time after I had returned from the survey trip and also to the airport terminal for departure.
After returning home I made out an expense report as I had been instructed and mailed it, certified, to the Las Vegas company. After 2 weeks, I had not received my expense payment. I called the company and my call would just get shuffled around with no result.
Finally, I called and asked for the president of the company. Who's calling was the standard reply. I stated Johnny Denver.I was transferred directly to his office and after a lengthy discussion he stated he would mail the check today. I said no, it must be wired "NOW". I stated that if he did not do that, I would ask the FAA to investigate the entire situation and their charter company would have a major investigation on their hand's. I received my payment within the hour. Man was I glad to be back on good old terafirma in Miami. Thanks again Dear Lord.
Largely unmentioned, up to this point, are experiences involving a variety of individuals encountered and, in most cases transported, in the performance of flight services. Most have been icons of the news media over the years of my own life experience. Many of these contacts occurred while I was associated with Mr. Bill Lear and during my early Jet Charter Service experience flying out of Kansas City after the close of my military career. Most of my experiences in dealing with them were most pleasant and rewarding.
The names include:
Bill Lear of Lear Jet fame Jane Russell Mr/Mrs Art Linkletter Al Jolson Chill Wills Col. Sanders Dick Enberg Harry Helmsey and Leona Goldie Hawn Elton John Ricardo Mantalban Sammy Davis Jr Jimmy Dean The Kansas Group Gov. Fabus Gov. Wallace Gov. Romney Ava Gardner Geo. Burns African President. (unnamed)
A Most Unfortunate Encounter
In November of 1994, I was visiting my brother Harold in Grand Island, Nebraska. It was about 1930 hours and we were driving to a steak house for dinner, just West of Grand Island. We were on U.S. 30, a four lane highway, two running west and two running East, with a divider in the middle. At a major intersection at this location we had stopped for a red light. Along came a beat up old Toyota pick up truck speeding that jump-crossed the divider and hit us head on. It was a major collision and my brother lost consciences due to the impact.
The driver of the Toyota started to speed off in the opposite direction heading West in the Eastbound lane. I do not know how the Toyota even ran after the collision. Harold and I both had seat belts on, thank God! I finally was able to exit the pickup cab through the right door. I went to the driver's side and got Harold out of the cab. An ambulance was on the way. I saw this character stopped in the west bound lane and went to his vehicle. An off duty policeman witnessed the entire episode. I was going to beat the bastard up but the cop showed his badge and held me off. In the back of his truck were several empty cans of beer and in the cab, the same, with about a case of cold beer in a cooler.
I was taken to the local St. Mary's Hospital in the ambulance and remained in the hospital for the next 8 days. My brother declined hospital treatment. He passed away about one year later from the injuries of the accident. I returned to my home in Florida for complete recovery. I never felt like renewing my FAA First Class Medical after the accident. That was the ending to my accident-free flying career. Thank you Dear Lord for watching over me.
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