Flying the North Atlantic

Pat Haley - Contributing columnist

The late Harold Losey of Wilmington loved challenges. He and his wife, Lillian, opened Losey’s Pharmacy located in Wilmington in 1964, and designed the first drive-thru pharmacy within the state of Ohio, where customers could pick up prescriptions without leaving their cars.

Harold had his share of adventure, too. He served as a corporal in the United State Marine Corps during World War II, and years later became a well-respected leader in our community.

Harold had a friend who had an adventurous spirit, too — George Bush. Not the late former president, but a generous man who built an extremely successful auto dealership and international truck leasing company in Wilmington.

Both Harold and George loved aviation. They served together on the Board of Directors of the Clinton County Air Field, so hearing from George was not unusual. According to Harold, it was a warm day in July when he received a telephone call from George, his pal and flying buddy.

“Can you get away for about three weeks later this summer to take a trip?” George asked.

“Where to this time?” Harold responded.

“I would like to fly the North Atlantic over to Holland to see John,” referring to John Eisenberger, who George and Harold had met when John came to the United States to learn to fly. “Our trip will take us from Clinton County to Holland and back in my single-engine 1986 Beechcraft Bonanza,” George said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Harold admitted George’s desire to fly across the North Atlantic had his adrenalin pumping. He headed home and asked his wife, Lil, if it was OK.

“Fine, as long as I don’t have to go,” she said.

The preparation for the trip was immense. Both men had to undergo medical testing, flight instructions, navigation training, and instrument certification. George had installed a new GPS in the plane, which at the time, was cutting-edge technology.

As one of the men said, “It’s good to know where we are over the Atlantic Ocean.”

The two friends began to load their plane with cooking utensils, matches in waterproof containers, a portable compass, an ax, flexible saw blade, fishing equipment, mosquito protection, sleeping bags, hunting rifle, six flares, two gallons of water and 10,000 calories of food per person.

Months of preparation, hard work and training lay behind them. Greenland, Goose Bay, and hours over the North Atlantic still lay ahead.

On September 11, 1994, seven days before Harold’s 69th birthday, the journey began. The men were surprised upon arrival at Clinton Field to discover many friends and well-wishers standing along the airstrip.

Harold and George squeezed into the tightly-packed Bonanza.

“I will be back in three weeks,” Harold told Lillian.

“You had better be back by then, because I need you to help mow grass,” she said, as her eyes welled up. She was proud of her husband, but couldn’t help being apprehensive as well. It was a long way from Wilmington to Europe in a small plane.

The motor started and the heavily loaded aircraft strained as the crowd cheered, and the plane gathered speed very slowly. The soft green grass and trees gradually began to fade as the airplane steadily climbed above the landmarks of Clinton County and achieving flying speed.

They were on their way.

Harold flew the first leg to Binghamton, New York, then to Portland, Maine, and on to New Brunswick, Canada. It wasn’t long before they were headed toward Goose Bay, Newfoundland, before heading across the North Atlantic.

As the plane hovered over the Atlantic, it was dark and cold. BANG! A bang like a rifle shot rang out. According to Harold, he couldn’t see his own face, but he said if he could have, it would have been the same as George’s. It was terror time. They remained in the air, thinking the problem had resolved itself.

Ten minutes later, another loud bang occurred. That time, George saw one of the gas tanks jump. The ice had caused the tank to freeze and then it expanded causing the loud bangs. They returned to Goose Bay.

The next day George and Harold took off again, heading back toward the ocean. That time the ice formed quickly, and the air became thin. They donned oxygen masks to ease their breathing and settled in for the long journey to Holland. As they passed Iceland they marveled as icebergs were tossed against the rock walls.

Many hours later, Scotland radio made contact and it wasn’t long before Harold and George saw the greenest grass they had ever seen in their lives. They had arrived in Scotland!

“Where’s the crowd? Lindberg had one!” Harold said. Regardless, the men continued on to Holland and had a wonderful reunion with their friend, John.

Days later, they were home, circling Clinton Airfield. They looked down and saw a large crowd, just like Lindberg. Lillian was standing almost in the same spot that Harold had left her.

“Would you do it again?” Lillian asked.

“Only if we can take the bus. Let’s go home, Lil.”

Pat Haley is former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.

Pat Haley

Contributing columnist