Chance Encounter With 1960 Life Magazine Connects Past With
Present And Makes Me Wonder...
By ANN Associate Editor Juan Jimenez
Several years ago, I was walking the streets of New York on a
beautiful Sunday afternoon, when I ran into a flea market near 89th
and Columbus. Having nothing better to do than enjoy the day, I
rummaged through the various stalls, displays and tables, until I
saw something that captured my attention. One of the many vendors
was selling magazines, but this one was different. He had boxes and
boxes of old Life magazines, and the challenge was to find the one
from the week you were born. I found two, one for myself and one
for my wife, and paid the $20 for the pair.
The cover of mine talked about the Moscow Fair and Richard
Nixon's trip to Russia. The picture on the cover featured Mmes.
Mikoyan (wife of A.I. Mikoyan, founder of the Russian aerospace
design bureau that carries his name, photo below, far right),
Nixon, Kruschev and Kozlov. On the cover of my wife's copy was a
picture of a beautiful young Italian actress by the name of Sofia
Loren who had become the fantasy of virtually of every red-blooded
male on the planet.
Yesterday I was organizing some of my files and found both
copies, so I took a break and sat down to read them. As I was
leafing through the Sofia Loren issue, I ran into a story about the
1960 Mustangs, the football team of the California State
Polytechnic University, or Cal Poly, for short.
The team had just played a game in Ohio prior to the Homecoming
celebrations. They took a beating in the game, 50-6, and were not
exactly in good spirits for their return trip. Like many other
small colleges, Cal Poly had decided to hire an unscheduled carrier
to fly them back to San Luis Obispo, Arctic Pacific Airline. The
aircraft they chartered for the flight was a 1945 C-46, which at
the time was barely 15 years old and had probably been one of the
surplus aircraft converted for civilian work after the end of World
The pilot of the aircraft was Mr. Donald Chesher. As it turned
out, no one had told the Cal Poly folks that Mr. Chesher had had
his license revoked for an accumulation of violations.
Unfortunately for the team, Mr. Chesher was still flying while he
appealed the revocation. It was at this point that all sorts of
bells went off in my mind... does the story sound familiar? "Deja
vu" just doesn't seem sufficiently appropriate.
It doesn't stop there. Arctic Pacific Airline also had a shady
record with the FAA. It had been investigated and charged by the
FAA for an irregular record of maintenance and flight procedures.
Do shady pilot records always lead to shady carrier records, or is
it the other way around?
As the team boarded the aircraft, the airport in Ohio was
sitting in the middle of the worst fog seen in ten months. The
control tower, concerned about the flight, asked Chesher about his
visibility, and he replied that he could see about 500 feet in
front of him, nowhere near the minimums for airlines in 1960.
Unfortunately, the control tower could not interfere with the
flight if the flight plan was "in order," and Chesher said he was
The aircraft just barely made it off the ground. According to
the Life magazine article, it "rose uncertainly, heeled sickeningly
to the left and crashed." A subsequent investigation revealed the
C-46 was loaded 1,000 lbs over max gross weight. Sixteen players
were killed, along with four passengers and both pilots. Nearly
everyone else on the aircraft suffered some type of injury. One of
the few pax to survive unscathed was assistant coach Sheldon
Harden. His efforts to save team members and other pax were
described as "heroic," and he was hired as head coach the next
year. He passed away just a few days ago, on January 24.
Just a few months ago, another pilot flying on a suspended
license while on appeal killed himself and a family with children,
and plowed his aircraft into a home in Texas. Turns out that the
pilot also had a long and notorious record at the FAA. A while
back, a beautiful singer and actress by the name of Aaliyah boarded
a C402, along with a bunch of luggage, equipment and her entourage,
to return to the US after a shoot. On the way out, the company that
took them there refused to do so in one aircraft because of the
weights. The 402 crashed on takeoff, killing everyone. The autopsy
on the pilot uncovered illegal drugs and alcohol in his
Want to know what
truly bothers me about all of this? The fact that the pilots made
decisions that killed people is tragic, but even worse is the fact
that someone had to know that these people were endangering the
lives of their passengers as well as their own. Pilots don't get
their licenses suspended and continue to fly on appeal overnight.
It's a process, and in that process there are people -- fellow
pilots -- who come in contact with those pilots and realize that
these people are dangerous.
What is keeping these people from taking action to prevent yet
another tragedy? What does it take for someone to speak up? Are
they so afraid to be labeled a "snitch" that we will allow these
people to put innocent lives in danger? Or are these people so
terrified of lawsuits that they are willing to gamble on the terms
of their final judgement just so they can avoid facing a judge?
This also makes me wonder why the FAA continues to go well out
of its way to make life impossible for people who want to enjoy
flying as Sport Pilots, while others are allowed to fly without
ever having set foot in an AME's office, and yet others are out
there, license suspension and letter of appeal in their pockets,
doing their best to make themselves and their pax the stars of the
next NTSB accident report. It's as if the agency's collective
memory were permanently and inversely attached to its sense of