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MayCay Beeler

an aviation journalist, CFII, FAA aviation safety counselor, airshow narrator


MayCay's latest project:  "121.5"  Check it out @ http://www.wwof.com/

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Ms Beeler's credentials are impressive: an Airline Transport Pilot, Certified Flight Instructor, an Air Race pilot, holder of several international aerospace records.  Combine these accomplishments with experience as an TV News, Weather and Feature on-air Host and Producer and recently named the FAA'S Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 2002 in the Southern Region, MayCay brings a unique perspective to the Professional airSHOW Narration Team.

As a Co-Host for a popular syndicated TV Show, MayCay Beeler learned to fly for a television assignment. In a promotion to encourage viewers to follow in MayCay’s footsteps, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) gave her the opportunity to fly free through first solo, in exchange for television coverage. Little did GAMA know that MayCay would eventually go on to earn her ATP and become a world record-breaking pilot.

While earning her ratings, as an award-winning journalist, MayCay produced many national TV features on aviation.  They included flying with General Chuck Yeager, Voyager pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager; competing in a transcontinental air race; jumping with the US Navy Seals; and flying mock air combat over Southern California. 

As a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII), MayCay is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and Aircraft Owner & Pilots' Association (AOPA) Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer for Greensboro, North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad International Airport.  For the past 11 years, she has been a regular participant in the annual Greensboro Spring WINGS WEEKEND as a volunteer flight instructor.  She has emceed the pilot appreciation banquet and written press releases to promote this important safety event.

Since the Attacks on America, MayCay has combined her Safety Counselor and AOPA ASN volunteer duties to post time sensitive information at GSO FBOs to update pilots on Temporary Flight Restrictions and security changes affecting General Aviation.

MayCay also mixes her passion for aviation with her journalism expertise whenever feasible.  She has helped emcee air shows, and spreads the good news about General Aviation through newscasts and reports.  In August, MayCay hosted a program entitled “121.5”, a video on pilot/controller emergency communications to be released Christmas 2002 on VHS.  Other aviation related on-camera work includes a video she hosted on Charitable Air Transportation for AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation.

Formally, MayCay has served as a Charter Pilot and Chairman of the Kitty Hawks 99s.  She was an applicant in NASA’s Journalist-in-Space Project, and a recipient of the Judy Resnick Aviation Scholarship.

MayCay says she loves flight instructing and flying passengers because she considers it a privilege to share the joy of flight with others.  She enjoys serving as an Aviation Safety Counselor because it’s a great opportunity to help others when needed; it enables her to continue to learn and grow a pilot; and best of all, it’s an excuse to hang out at one of her favorite places: the airport. 

When not flying the airways, MayCay can be seen on the airwaves as a freelance TV News Weather Anchor and actress.

MayCay teamed up with Hugh Oldham to narrate the Eastern Music Festival Airshow, in Greensboro NC, going on to becoming the first Female/Male narration team to work the airshow circuit.  During the intervening years, MayCay has heaped much deserved abuse on Hugh to the delight of airshow spectators across the Southeast.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm, her unbounded passion for flight all combine to bring to your spectators a new perspective to your airshow.

Return to Norman's Cay

A tale of terror, treachery, and the search for a long-lost love

BY MAYCAY BEELER (From AOPA Pilot, April 2004.)


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Welcome to Norman's Cay
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Dick Fayssoux
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Remains of a drug lord's home
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Norman's Cay
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Debris from N3244W and other victims
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Gene and Dick Fayssoux
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Sidney Kirkpatrick

"We're going to complete the vacation we never finished back in 1982," Gene Fayssoux announced as she climbed into the sporty V-tail. The Beechcraft Bonanza would take her back to the Bahamian island that nearly claimed her life 21 years ago. Hopefully, this time around, the vacation would end on a happier note as she and her husband set out to find some long-anticipated closure to an incident that changed them forever.

Flash back two decades: We've all heard about those "vacations from hell." This one involves a dramatic flying adventure, international intrigue, a forced crash landing, a brush with death, and a tropical island paradise with a seedy secret. In addition, it entails one of the most compelling real-life "lost and found" stories ever told. Such stories usually involve some romance — and this one is no exception. Here the long-lost love is a Piper Cherokee Six, dearly referred to as Magic Carpet, or Whiskey, short for N3244W. Throw into the mix a close encounter with a legendary drug lord; the one man who wasn't afraid to set him straight; massive smuggling; government cover-ups; and a small private Bahamian out-island airstrip that once doubled as a Miami International Airport of sorts — transporting cocaine instead of passengers — and you've got a story that has Hollywood screenwriters intrigued.

When I first met Dick and Gene Fayssoux, I never could have imagined the story they had to tell. It had been 21 years in the making — just waiting for a pilot-journalist like me to come along to dig it out of them. Little did I know at the time that six months later I would have the pleasure of witnessing the "happy ending" to the tragic story that began two decades earlier.

Reluctant to reveal much of their story at first, Dick slowly leaked the details. I couldn't believe my ears. First of all, you need to know that Dick and Gene are fine down-to-earth Greensboro, North Carolina, folks. In their mid-70s, they could easily be the grandparents or the folks next door. You need to know this to realize that their remarkable adventure could happen to anyone, not just characters on the silver screen.

The question that spilled the beans was my asking if Dick still flies today (he's a former commercial pilot). The answer was no. When I asked why, he mentioned he'd had an airplane crash back in 1982 that ended his pleasure-flying days for good. As seasoned pleasure fliers, the Fayssouxes were no strangers to the Bahamas. Over the years, they had logged many enjoyable flight hours vacationing throughout the islands on trips that included treasure hunts. Sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, the treasure hunt was well known among private pilots for its rich prizes. While Dick and Gene had come away winners before, this particular trip would involve losing one of their most prized possessions: their precious Whiskey. On July 3, 1982, Dick and Gene were flying Whiskey with another couple, Dempsey and Vi Clinard. It was a beautiful Bahamian day with idyllic flying conditions. The two couples were en route from Palm Beach International Airport to George Town, Exuma, Bahamas. That's when something went terribly wrong. Smoke filled the cabin. After troubleshooting failed, Dick remembers saying, "My God, we're going to burn up in here." But flight training kicked in, and while the cockpit was foggy, the pilots' minds were clear. A precautionary landing was in order.

The two pilots, Dempsey in the left seat, Dick in the right, decided to try for Norman's Cay, an out island in the Exuma chain. Its close proximity to their position was tempting in spite of the island's reputation as a haven for drug smuggling. After making emergency radio calls to Nassau Approach and Norman's Unicom, Dempsey entered a downwind for Runway 3. It was then that he noticed a Piper Seneca taxiing out on the runway. He extended the downwind leg to give the twin time to depart. That's when the Cherokee Six's engine quit.

Luckily the runway was within gliding distance, but as the pilots made their final approach, to the horror of everyone on board, the runway was still blocked. Dempsey aimed for the side of the runway to avoid hitting the "blocking" airplane. Dick recalls saying, "We're not going to make it." Dempsey replied, "I know."

They crash-landed, all four aboard seriously hurt. Broken backs, broken jaws, a broken airplane. Three were knocked out on impact; only Gene was conscious. She says she clearly remembers hearing the Seneca take off after the crash. Whiskey had crashed just short of the runway, suspended half over the water and half on the coral rock ledge that preceded the threshold. Later, Dempsey came to and remembers a man by the name of Dr. Novak being of great assistance.

Of all the 700 Bahamian islands, few stray tourists in boats or airplanes escaped this one alive. Miraculously, the two couples' lives were spared, and they were flown to a hospital in Nassau. Oddly enough, the very pilot who had blocked the runway was instructed to return to the island and fly the crash survivors to medical help awaiting them in Nassau. There they received mysterious visits from authorities who strongly suggested they forget that the incident ever took place. The couples asked about the Dr. Novak who had helped them. No one acknowledged his existence.

When the Fayssouxes' aircraft insurance company sent agents to Norman's Cay to document the accident, they were met with machine guns and held hostage.

During the years of recovery that followed, the couples learned there was much more to that secluded island than met the eye. In fact, it was a hot-bed of international drug smuggling and violence. Norman's Cay, at the time, was the epicenter of the world's largest drug operation, home of the legendary Carlos Lehder — notorious drug lord of the infamous Medellin cartel. Ideally situated between Colombia and Miami, Norman's Cay had become the perfect transshipment center for 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States. It was a multimillion-dollar business.

In his book Turning the Tide: One Man Against the Medellin Cartel, author Sidney Kirkpatrick documents the bad-boy antics of Lehder on Norman's Cay. Airplanes being shot down and runways deliberately blocked were common punishments for stray fliers like Dick and Gene and Dempsey and Vi, who could have been Drug Enforcement Agency agents in the paranoid mind of Norman's drug baron.

As fate would have it, years after the accident, Kirkpatrick's book found its way into the hands of the crash survivors. The book talked about a Dr. Novak — Dr. Richard Novak — a Bible-reading college professor and marine researcher whose love for the pristine nature of Norman's Cay put him at odds with its drug lord. Novak is the "one man against the Medellin cartel" that the book title refers to. When the DEA and local officials refused to take action, Novak used his underwater expertise to gather evidence and execute sabotage missions that helped bring Lehder to his headline-making downfall. Of special interest to the crash survivors was the role Novak had played in helping save their lives on Norman's Cay. Reports document other such crash victims who had been left to die.

Why were Dick and Gene and Dempsey and Vi allowed to live? Why did the American and Bahamian governments allow such dangerous activity on Norman's Cay, yet not warn tourists to keep away? Was the runway really deliberately blocked in an effort to kill the occupants of Whiskey, and if so, why then was an immediate effort made to save their lives?

Fast forward to November 2003: Carlos Lehder's drug operation has long been shut down, the drug baron imprisoned, and Norman's Cay is open to visitors. Instead of pilots being greeted with blocked runways and machine guns, today they are met with a golf cart and a friendly smile by resort operator and pilot Dale Harshbarger. With the beach at their front door and the airport at their back door, guests at MacDuff's of Norman's Cay enjoy a well-maintained 3,300-foot airstrip (visible from their villas) on a true island paradise with some of the best food in the Bahamas.

Two very special guests are en route here, not just for the R&R, but also to reclaim their beloved Whiskey. And their loyal love for general aviation demands that they fly from their North Carolina home to Norman's Cay in this preferred manner. After 21 years of pondering what had become of the wreckage of their Cherokee Six, Dick and Gene are in search of answers and closure on Norman's Cay. Atlantic Aero at Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport, the very FBO that greeted the medevac airplane that carried the crash survivors home from Nassau in 1982, has donated the use of a Bonanza plus fuel for the journey. I volunteer to fly the airplane, with Dick as my honorary copilot, as we carry Gene and my son, RJ, who will document the trip on video. There, Norman's Cay expert Sidney Kirkpatrick will meet us to answer questions as to what really happened on the day of the crash. Although Dempsey and Vi long to join us to learn the "rest of the story," health concerns prohibit their travel.

November 11: We are Bahamas bound. As we roll down the runway departing Greensboro International, Dick and Gene are in their element. Delighted to be back in a small airplane, they don't seem to mind the cozy quarters of the V35B. Since we can't carry full fuel with four people plus belongings, the pit stops at Hilton Head Island and Palm Beach International only serve to fuel their enthusiasm. After picking up overwater survival gear in Florida, we are off, and before we know it, we are approaching Nassau in howling winds and rain showers. Since we have run out of daylight and the airport at Norman's Cay closes at dark, we'll have to make our approach (a mere 14-minute island hop away) in the morning. During our overnight in Nassau, anticipation grows for the morning's "reunion" on Norman's Cay. The crash survivors have high hopes of somehow locating and reuniting with their lost airplane.

November 12: We wake up to the same howling winds but with glorious Bahamian blue skies. At Nassau International, we file the required flight plan and head southeast for 44 nm. On this trip to Norman's, the airplane is mechanically sound.

And the runway is clear. The only concern is the possibility that the blowing crosswind may be too much for the V-tail. But no worries; the trees lining the runway offer a nice buffer from the wind. We make our approach to Runway 3, flying over the very spot where Whiskey met her demise some 21 years before. Dick and Gene are silently ecstatic as the V-tail gently touches down. Big smiles fill the cockpit. Later, they remark what a joy it was to land safely this time around.

The breathtaking beauty of the island is more than one can imagine. True to the island's new image — no more druggies — we are met with a smile and golf cart as resort proprietors Dale and Cat welcome us wholeheartedly. After unloading the airplane, we are led to our accommodations — a colorful tropical villa straight out of a postcard. But it holds a special meaning — it is the refurbished island home of Novak. Now deceased, Novak had occupied this very villa as he waged his personal war against Lehder and his drug goons.

As Dick and Gene settle in the villa, RJ and I strap into the Bonanza for a hop back to Nassau. There we pick up Sidney Kirkpatrick and bring him to Norman's Cay. Once we return with Kirkpatrick, the answers our crash survivors have sought for so long come quickly.

Kirkpatrick is a best-selling author who has extensively researched Norman's Cay. He conducted interviews with Novak, DEA agents, government officials, and private citizens whose lives and careers were at risk for their involvement in his revelations.

For the next two days, with the help of island resident Renee Shelby, Kirkpatrick tirelessly leads us all on a tour of Norman's Cay. We walk through Lehder's former "Volcano House," the ruins of crack labs, the hangars Lehder built where aircraft registration numbers were changed nightly on the tails of the drug planes smuggling cocaine from Colombia into the United States via Norman's. We see the debris of a control tower; deserted kennels where killer guard dogs once slept; caves and dense tropical overgrowth where stashes of cocaine and bodies were easily hidden; bullet casings strewn throughout the island; and yes, aircraft wreckage from downed planes. A lot of wreckage was removed in the cleanup that followed Lehder's departure, but much remains twisted and trapped among the island vegetation. Could Dick and Gene's airplane be among it?

Divers had examined Whiskey's wreckage for insurance purposes 21 years before, assuming that it was still in the waters off the runway. Kirkpatrick and RJ snorkel the area in search of the remains. Island residents had spoken of airplane crash parts in the vicinity, but none were seen this time. Other airplane wreckage on the island is carefully combed through by our group, only to reveal no sign of Whiskey.

As Dick and Gene's hopes of finding their Magic Carpet begin to fade, Kirkpatrick offers insight into their crash. "Yes," he tells them, "the runway was most certainly deliberately blocked." (His research confirms this — he has taped interviews where Novak discusses their very situation.) Why were they allowed to live, while others were left to perish? Because, it would appear, at the particular time of their forced crash, DEA agents and government officials were finalizing plans for a sting operation to bust Lehder on Norman's Cay. Because of the big bribes Lehder was known to pay certain authorities to "look the other way," the drug lord had always been tipped off about these raids in the past. But word was getting out that the noose was tightening and he had to watch his six. Officials were monitoring Norman's radio frequency. They had heard Whiskey's distress calls. They radioed Norman's and warned Lehder's men that they wanted these people returned to Nassau alive.

The mysterious visits the crash survivors received by government authorities while in the hospital — where they were encouraged to forget that the incident ever took place — perhaps served to stifle any questions that may have sparked unwanted attention to the secret operation that had to be kept under wraps.

Regarding Dick's bewilderment as to why the U.S. and Bahamian governments would allow such blatant drug smuggling to occur, yet not warn tourists to stay away, well, the answer may lie in the delicate political relationship the United States shared with the Bahamians at the time. Not wanting to ruffle their feathers, perhaps to keep the American submarine base on Andros Island (in close proximity to Cuba), was one theory. This involved the United States "looking the other way" regarding the drug activity on Norman's Cay while Lehder allegedly paid off a Bahamian prime minister to do the same. Eventually, the United States could ignore the massive drug operation no more, and got serious about pulling the plug.

Dick and Gene accept these explanations. The pieces to the puzzle are finally falling into place. Now all that is left is to come to terms with Whiskey. The plane is out there somewhere, but where?

November 14: It is time for Kirkpatrick to return home, so RJ and I fly him back to Nassau to catch an airliner to Miami. While we are gone, Dick and Gene reflect back on their experiences on Norman's Cay. They get emotional. Later, Gene tells me why it is so important to find her beloved Whiskey.

"She took care of us," Gene explains. "She protected us in that crash; in the worst of circumstances, she protected us." Gene is grateful Whiskey's fuselage took the full brunt of the impact, sparing the lives of all aboard. She is not bitter about her broken back and the long recovery that followed; she is proud her airplane spared her from a far worse fate.

And little did Gene know at the time that within 24 hours, as fate would have it, she would come face to face with her dear Whiskey one more time.

November 15: It is late morning, the same time of day the crash occurred 21 years ago. While relaxing in Novak's former villa, Dick, Gene, RJ, and I are surprised to see Renee charge into the room. She's been out all morning with Dale, the resort owner, and two other residents who'd had a whim to explore a particular area they had remembered seeing aircraft wreckage before. "Don't get your hopes up," she warns excitedly, "but we've found some more airplane wreckage; we think you should take a look at it." We get up from our chairs, game for the search, but knowing nothing may come of it. We make the short stroll to the airstrip. There we get a ride down to the end of the runway at the beach and the very coral embankment where Whiskey had hit. We hang a left, walk about 100 yards, then turn inland 50 feet into dense tropical vegetation. There we see some remains, sharp, jagged, twisted.

Everything feels surreal as Dick slowly starts to recognize signs of an old friend. Dale, Renee, and the others had gathered several pieces of the scattered torn fuselage and brought them together. The bottom of the airplane where the seats had once been, tattered seat belts, a piece of carpet, all faded but still clearly recognizable as the original light-blue color of Whiskey's interior. Then there are a few other telltale signs that are unique to the aircraft Dick had known inside and out. As we witness his mounting excitement, we are still expecting a discovery that confirms this is not his dear Cherokee Six at all.

But it never comes, because it is his Cherokee Six. Emotions rise. Dick apologizes for not being able to conceal his feelings, explaining, "I'm getting choked up." It is a special moment. Goosebumps appear. Time stands still. Some of us are numb, in shock at the unlikelihood of this really happening. Gene carefully steps through the twisted metal, declaring, "Here is where I was sitting, and Vi was next to me. There is Dick's seat belt." She picks up a souvenir, several actually, remains of her Magic Carpet, her beloved Whiskey. Gene affectionately holds Renee in a bear hug that speaks volumes. No words can express the gratitude that is felt in this miraculous discovery. Main pieces of the bottom of the fuselage are pretty well intact. The wings, tail section, and engine are all missing, are perhaps resting at the bottom of the sea. Another compliment from Gene expresses her gratefulness that Whiskey's structural integrity had spared their lives in what could easily have been a fatal crash. Of course it goes without saying the immense gratitude she feels for the pilot's skill.

And now the most important revelation of all: the evidence that would remove all doubt as to the true identity of these remains. It is etched on an airplane part Dale picks up. It has a number on it. Twenty-one years of weather, ocean submersion, hurricanes, searing sun, howling winds, and rough surf that must have hurled these remnants of Whiskey up on shore, the original trauma of the crash impact, all factors contributing to the battered state of the wreckage, have muddled the number. Dale carefully polishes the scratched metal to make it readable.

A happier moment can be found nowhere. Dale reads the number: PA32-60. It is the unique serial number of N3244W, Dick and Gene's long-lost love, their precious Cherokee Six. It really is Whiskey after all. No one can believe it. Norman's Cay is a happy place. The island that once held a seedy secret now shouts the joy of a remarkable lost-and-found story. Today Norman's Cay is an island of magic, of sweet revelations, healing tropical breezes, and turquoise seas, a pilot's paradise. It is also a paradox for the crash survivors. For the one island that nearly took their lives some two decades ago today makes Dick and Gene feel more alive than ever before.

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