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Retired pilot Bob Pitcairn remains on the fly


The hijacking 40 years ago was not even his worse flight.

That came later for Summerside native Bob Pitcairn, who retired as a commercial pilot in 1998. More on that rocky ride later.

The 76-year-old retired pilot’s most famous flight, one that garnered national headlines, was on CP Air Flight 71 on Nov. 29, 1974.

Bob Pitcairn on heightened airport security since 9/11

With Pitcairn in control of the 737 carrying 120 passengers on a flight that took off from Montreal, passenger Naim Djemal put a knife to crew member Lena Madsen, demanding to go to Cyprus.

The hijacker repeatedly hit Madsen with the knife.

Pitcairn, who had six months earlier taken a two-day course on what to do during a hijacking, went into what he describes as an extended calm to address the serious threat.

“I’ve had enough emergencies in aircraft that you are so well trained,’’ he says. “I didn’t go out screaming and yelling and all that stuff.’’

From his training, Pitcairn knew to keep the hijacker confused, to ensure he had minimal control.

The pilot told Djemal he would land the plane in Saskatoon to refuel and carry on. He returned to the cockpit and radioed Saskatoon, arranging for the RCMP to meet the aircraft.

After landing the plane, Pitcairn returned to the galley, surprised that Djemal had given up. He escorted the hijacker out on to the tarmac where police quickly apprehended Djemal.

The beaten crew member Madsen was so traumatized, she left her flight job for good.

Yet Pitcairn, who calls himself an alpha male, took the hijacking in stride. He declined an offer for time off and a free first-class trip to Honolulu. His next flight came  just a couple days later and it “didn’t bother me.’’

Click here to read a BBC Sports story on Pitcairn being the oldest athlete in the history of the Commonwealth Games

Pitcairn’s most unsettling flight came the following year with him eventually shifting from passenger to pilot while aboard his friend’s Cessna on a trip to hunt mountain goats north of Vancouver.

The pair encountered dangerously strong winds. The plane clipped some trees. Pitcairn took charge.

He explained his then 15,000 hours of flight time compared to his friend’s 500 hours of flight time made him the obvious choice to tackle the precarious landing.

Pitcairn narrowly averted a deadly crash, leaving his friend with a $25,000 repair bill in the process.

“I thought I was going to die that day,’’ he recalls.

Pitcairn talks with great romanticism of his 24,162 hours of flight time on 65 different types of planes, the hijacking and the dramatic landing included.

“I enjoyed every hour,’’ he says. “I never regretted going to work...I looked forward to all my flights. They were all different.’’

Pitcairn, who grew up in different parts of P.E.I. but primarily lived in Charlottetown, was fascinated with planes from an early age. He loved making model airplanes as a boy, and joined the cadets in Summerside at age 13.

He joined the RCAF in December 1956 and was selected as a pilot. He was a flight instructor for his full nine years in the Air Force, flying among other planes Chipmunks and T-Birds.

The most challenging aircraft to fly was the Harvard.

“It was a very difficult plane to fly,’’ he says. “I didn’t like it. It was twitchy.’’

His last flight as a pilot was May 5, 1998 from Hong Kong to Vancouver.

Yet living in Chilliwack. B.C. with his wife Kay, who he met while in the Air Force where she was a nurse, Pitcairn is still very much on the fly.

He is a high adrenaline, active man. He likes to hunt sheep, deer and moose.  But what really fires up Pitcairn is competitive shooting.

His love affair with the sport dates back to his years as a cadet when he won the individual aggregate twice between 1952 and 1956.

From 1959 to 1975, he won a total of 181 first prize or championship awards in local, provincial, national and international competition.

He has shot his way into the National Sports Hall of Fame, the Armed Forces Hall of Fame and the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame, noting the latter is most precious to this Island native.

Pitcairn has not eased up during a competitive career that has seen him qualify a record 45 times for the Canadian Rifle Team, including getting the nod along with his son Donald to compete for the World Long Range Rifle Championships in Brisbane, Australia in 2015.

Pitcairn practices his shooting for half a day each week during the off-season.

“When you go to shoot, it’s a skilled game,’’ he says. “I don’t know when it’s going to end.’’

He is in no hurry to end a second long-time passion after bringing his beloved career as a pilot to a close more than 16 years ago.

“”I’ve been truly blessed with my life,’’ he says. “Shooting has replaced my flying, but when I was younger I did both.’’

The hijacking 40 years ago was not even his worse flight.

That came later for Summerside native Bob Pitcairn, who retired as a commercial pilot in 1998. More on that rocky ride later.

The 76-year-old retired pilot’s most famous flight, one that garnered national headlines, was on CP Air Flight 71 on Nov. 29, 1974.

Bob Pitcairn on heightened airport security since 9/11

With Pitcairn in control of the 737 carrying 120 passengers on a flight that took off from Montreal, passenger Naim Djemal put a knife to crew member Lena Madsen, demanding to go to Cyprus.

The hijacker repeatedly hit Madsen with the knife.

Pitcairn, who had six months earlier taken a two-day course on what to do during a hijacking, went into what he describes as an extended calm to address the serious threat.

“I’ve had enough emergencies in aircraft that you are so well trained,’’ he says. “I didn’t go out screaming and yelling and all that stuff.’’

From his training, Pitcairn knew to keep the hijacker confused, to ensure he had minimal control.

The pilot told Djemal he would land the plane in Saskatoon to refuel and carry on. He returned to the cockpit and radioed Saskatoon, arranging for the RCMP to meet the aircraft.

After landing the plane, Pitcairn returned to the galley, surprised that Djemal had given up. He escorted the hijacker out on to the tarmac where police quickly apprehended Djemal.

The beaten crew member Madsen was so traumatized, she left her flight job for good.

Yet Pitcairn, who calls himself an alpha male, took the hijacking in stride. He declined an offer for time off and a free first-class trip to Honolulu. His next flight came  just a couple days later and it “didn’t bother me.’’

Pitcairn’s most unsettling flight came the following year with him eventually shifting from passenger to pilot while aboard his friend’s Cessna on a trip to hunt mountain goats north of Vancouver.

The pair encountered dangerously strong winds. The plane clipped some trees. Pitcairn took charge.

He explained his then 15,000 hours of flight time compared to his friend’s 500 hours of flight time made him the obvious choice to tackle the precarious landing.

Pitcairn narrowly averted a deadly crash, leaving his friend with a $25,000 repair bill in the process.

“I thought I was going to die that day,’’ he recalls.

Pitcairn talks with great romanticism of his 24,162 hours of flight time on 65 different types of planes, the hijacking and the dramatic landing included.

“I enjoyed every hour,’’ he says. “I never regretted going to work...I looked forward to all my flights. They were all different.’’

Pitcairn, who grew up in different parts of P.E.I. but primarily lived in Charlottetown, was fascinated with planes from an early age. He loved making model airplanes as a boy, and joined the cadets in Summerside at age 13.

He joined the RCAF in December 1956 and was selected as a pilot. He was a flight instructor for his full nine years in the Air Force, flying among other planes Chipmunks and T-Birds.

The most challenging aircraft to fly was the Harvard.

“It was a very difficult plane to fly,’’ he says. “I didn’t like it. It was twitchy.’’

His last flight as a pilot was May 5, 1998 from Hong Kong to Vancouver.

Yet living in Chilliwack. B.C. with his wife Kay, who he met while in the Air Force where she was a nurse, Pitcairn is still very much on the fly.

He is a high adrenaline, active man. He likes to hunt sheep, deer and moose.  But what really fires up Pitcairn is competitive shooting.

His love affair with the sport dates back to his years as a cadet when he won the individual aggregate twice between 1952 and 1956.

From 1959 to 1975, he won a total of 181 first prize or championship awards in local, provincial, national and international competition.

He has shot his way into the National Sports Hall of Fame, the Armed Forces Hall of Fame and the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame, noting the latter is most precious to this Island native.

Pitcairn has not eased up during a competitive career that has seen him qualify a record 45 times for the Canadian Rifle Team, including getting the nod along with his son Donald to compete for the World Long Range Rifle Championships in Brisbane, Australia in 2015.

Pitcairn practices his shooting for half a day each week during the off-season.

“When you go to shoot, it’s a skilled game,’’ he says. “I don’t know when it’s going to end.’’

He is in no hurry to end a second long-time passion after bringing his beloved career as a pilot to a close more than 16 years ago.

“”I’ve been truly blessed with my life,’’ he says. “Shooting has replaced my flying, but when I was younger I did both.’’

Friendly skies

Retired pilot Bob Pitcairn has mixed feelings on the ramped up security that followed the 9/11 attacks.

“I find it a great annoyance,’’ he says. “It has taken the romanticism out of flying but it’s an absolute necessary thing.’’

In his many years as a commercial pilot, meanwhile, Pitcairn quickly learned to give unruly passengers two options: an easy one and a tough one. He found that a passenger creating a difficulty would usually chose the easy out in order to save face.

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