Portland, ME (NEWS CENTER) -- On September 3, 1987, Hank Dempsey became part of aviation history. The Eastern Express Airline pilot was at the controls of 15-seat Beechcraft 99.
The Cape Elizabeth native was heading from Lewiston, Maine to Boston with some freight, but no passengers. On the flight north, someone had gotten air sick, so Dempsey sent Co-pilot Paul Boucher back to open the plane's vents. Boucher noticed that there was air leaking from the seal around the back door, which was hinged at the bottom and became the exit stairs. Boucher reported the leak to Dempsey and suggested they put it on the maintenance report.
Dempsey went to the back of the plane and later told investigators that the plane hit turbulence. Dempsey fell against the door, which flew open. As Dempsey exited the aircraft he grabbed for whatever he could find.
Mr. Dempsey did not respond to NEWS CENTER's request for an interview via his Facebook page and has turned down all requests in the past.
Allyn Caruso, who was President of the airline at the time told NEWS CENTER that Dempsey ended up upside down and back to the airplane. One of his hands gripped the side of the door which was about four inches thick. The other may have been wrapped into the chain which supported a hand rail.
His left foot was said to be still in the plane, but his head hung down below the bottom step.
Caruso also said, "That he took quite a beating" from the airstream. The plane was at 5000 feet and travelling 190 miles an hour.
Up front, Boucher felt the wind buffet the airplane. The door ajar light came on. Boucher looked back to see an open door and no pilot. He excitedly contact the tower, giving his coordinates and asking for a Coast Guard search of Casco Bay where he assumed Dempsey had fallen.
However, Hank was hanging on, for dear life.
He turned to the Portland Jetport. When he lowered the flaps and the wings, it provided something of a lee for Dempsey, who was somehow able to improve his position and move slightly up the stairs.
As the plane landed, he moved into a "sit-up" position according to Caruso.
Caruso reported that the door hit the runway during landing and that Dempsey's head was less than a foot off the ground.
Dempsey was traumatized and did not fly for several years, according to Caruso. He did do a Timex Watch ad (it kept on ticking) and appeared on one late night talk show.
According to his Facebook book page, Hank Dempsey is 77 years old and currently lives in Virginia.