This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, though, really the goal is to prevent suicide every week, every day. Yesterday, was World Suicide Prevention Day, and around the world, people held candlelight vigils, honoring their loved ones who died by suicide. I attended the vigil in Atlanta last night, and read the following tribute, celebrating his life.
While the story of my dad’s suicide in 1991, at the age of 54, was dramatic and tragic, it is not the most important story of his lifetime.
His greatest passion was aviation. He flew planes, photographed planes, and wrote about planes.
It was said that my father had one of the largest collections of airplane photographs in the country, and, as far as I know, they were all taken by him. He shared this love of all things airborne with the family he loved. Growing up, we regularly had weekend lunches at the Addison Airport restaurant in North Dallas, where he would spend the afternoon taking pictures. This, of course, was a time when you could stand by a runway fence, snapping photos and not get arrested.
We traveled across Texas to various air shows and rural airports, spending our summer days hanging out on hot tarmacs. We would also hang out at small airports with his friends who had planes, occasionally getting to take a joy ride.
Of course, his love of flying also meant that he flew planes as well as taking pictures of them. In the late 60s, Dad became a corporate pilot for a Texas oil company, and in the 80s, he was a pilot for the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle.
The grand heroic gesture was something that he was also fascinated with, and it was during his time flying seaplanes that he was able to help save the day with his own grand gesture.
On June 5, 1987, Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle Flight 329 was en route from St. Croix to San Juan, Puerto Rico when the aircraft was hijacked as it neared San Juan. The hijacker came to the cockpit, tapped Dad, the co-pilot, on the shoulder and demanded to be flown to Cuba, threatening to blow up the aircraft if that did not happen. Dad and the pilot convinced the man that they did not have enough fuel for the flight to Cuba. The hijacker allowed them to land in San Juan, permitting the 16 passengers and the 2 pilots to exit the plane, apparently believing that the pilots would return with maps and fuel for the flight to Cuba. The hijacker stayed on board and ultimately surrendered to police after a 7 hour standoff. They found he was armed with a homemade bomb in a briefcase, which he had brought onboard in St. Croix, and a flare pistol he obtained on the aircraft. Tragedy was averted by the quick thinking of both Dad and the pilot.
Though Dad’s life was cut short by mental illness, he lives on in the books he wrote, the photographs he took, and through his drawings and paintings. He would be thrilled to know that you can still find some of his airplane guidebooks on Amazon and Ebay.
Mitch Mayborn, my Dad, was a creative soul who longed to soar through the skies. He is missed by all who knew him and loved him.