Mira Slovak, 84, who made world headlines in 1953 when he hijacked his DC-3 and flew it from Czechoslovakia to West Germany, has died at the age of 83 in Fallbrook, California.
Slovak, the youngest captain in the state-run Czechoslovakian Airlines, had two co-conspirators who helped him defect on March 23, 1953. The conspirators smuggled guns on board and locked the co-pilot, navigator, and flight engineer in a baggage compartment. Then Slovak dropped the plane more than 1,000 feet to stay out of view from Russian MIGs, and flew on the night of the full moon until he could see the neon lights of West Germany.
Slovak, born October 25, 1929 in Cifer, Czechoslovakia, came from a fearless family; during World War II, his family defied the Nazis by concealing two Jewish families and hiding them in their farmhouse basement. Slovak became a Czech airman at the age of 17 and graduated to the status of captain with the state airline by the time he was 21. He hated communism; he told Sports Illustrated in 1960, “I saw friends disappear, property gone, a place full of betrayal and informers. I thought if I stayed I would be shot or in prison.”
David Williams, executive director of the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum, recalled that after he defected, U.S. intelligence officials questioned Slovak for months. They offered him an introduction to Bill Boeing Jr., the son of William Boeing, the founder of Boeing Airlines; Boeing Jr. hired Slovak as his personal pilot.
Boeing Jr. owned a 2,000-horsepower hydroplane and believed that Slovak would be fearless in testing it, as he had no wife or children. Boeing Jr. said, “I want a bachelor in my boat, not a driver with a distraught wife on shore and a bunch of kids waving Daddy goodbye.” In the next ten years Slovak won three national titles piloting “unlimited” hydroplanes, knocking out most of his teeth, cutting his face, injuring his back and kidneys and dislocating his hip. He said, “I got to know lots of nurses by their first name.”
Slovak became a crop-duster, a daredevil aerobatic pilot and won national championships for speedboat racing. He also won the title at the first Reno National Air Races in 1964. He piloted a tiny motor glider with a 36-horsepower Volkswagen engine from Germany to California in 1968, then reversed the flight in 1969. He joked self-deprecatingly that he was “born chicken, absolute chicken” despite the fact that he would throw his arms up in the air while flying an open-cockpit plane upside-down 50 feet from the ground.
Before he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2013, Slovak had plans to fly a vintage biplane from California to the Czech Republic. His girlfriend of the last 28 years, Ingrid Bondi, said, “He’d mapped out the route and was quite serious about it.” Bondi was a former Continental Airlines flight attendant and Slovak had been a pilot for Continental, retiring in 1986.
Slovak was married and divorced twice.