Thomas Fitzpatrick, an amateur pilot drunkenly landed a plane on an NYC street, twice. His feat earned him a mixed drink named after him “Late Night Flight”
Around 3 A.M. on September 30, 1956, a World War II veteran-turned-airplane pilot, Thomas Fitzpatrick, did what seems totally unthinkable — Thomas flew a single engine plane without lights or radio and landed it perfectly on an uptown Manhattan Street – and Fitzpatrick did this because of a drunken bet. Then, two years later, he did it again.
Early Life Of Thomas Fitzpatrick
Very little is known about Fitzpatrick – he lived his life the way he wanted, according to his brother, Fitzpatrick lied about his age in order to serve in World War II and joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 15.
Fitzpatrick was born in New York City in 1930, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.
Before he was honorably discharged from the Marines, he learned to fly a reconnaissance plane. Instead of leaving the military life behind Fitzpatrick joined the US Army, where he was stationed in Japan.
Fitzpatrick was scheduled to return home when the Korean War began. He became the first person from New York City to be wounded in Korea. According to a report, “he was wounded while driving an ammunition truck to rescue some American soldiers trapped by the communist fire.” He received a Purple Heart for his service, although he was known to be a restless soul.
Fred Hartling, an old neighbor of Fitzpatrick and Hartling’s brother, who was good friends with Fitzpatrick, said: “Tommy had a crazy side, the whole group of them, my brother’s friends, were a wild bunch.”
At some point, Fitzpatrick became interested in flying and thus he enrolled in flying school at the Teterboro School Of Aeronautics. By the time he was 26, he was working as an airplane mechanic.
Thomas Fitzpatrick’s first Manhattan Landing
On September 30, 1956, after having few drinks at a local bar in Washington Heights, Fitzpatrick, then 26 drove to his flying school, stole one of their single-engine planes, and took off without lights or radio contact and landed on Street Nicholas Avenue near 191 Street.
However, Fitzpatrick first tried to land the plane in a nearby park but it was too dark to see, so he landed the plane on the street instead. When residents awoke, they were amazed to find a plane parked in the middle of the busy street.
What caused the incident in the first place? It turned out that Fitzpatrick made an intoxicated barroom bet that he could travel from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes.
According to resident Jim Clarke, who spoke of seeing the plane near his home, “Supposedly, he planned on landing on the field at George Washington High School but it wasn’t lit up at night, so he had to land on St. Nicholas instead.”
Another resident, Sam Garcia, who was just a kid when he saw Fitzpatrick’s plane, recounted the incident as so unexpected that he didn’t believe it was real.
“I thought maybe they had trucked it in, as a practical joke, because there was no way a man had landed in that narrow street,” Gracia, now 68 recalled.
The New York Times called his illegal flight a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing.”
Everyone was impressed by Thomas Fitzpatrick’s feat that even the plane’s owner declined to sign a complaint. Sgt. Harold Behrens of the police aviation bureau said the odds against sticking a landing like that were 100,000 to 1.
He Did It Again After Two Years
Two years later, on October 4, 1958, Fitzpatrick landed another aircraft on Manhattan Street, but this time it was a red-and-cream single-engine Cessna 120 on Amsterdam and 187th street in front of a Yeshiva University.
Similar to the first time, Fitzpatrick flew the plane smoothly onto the streets of the city. But this time it wasn’t a bet that made him do it. Fitzpatrick decided to land the airplane after a bar patron disbelieved his first feat, and the alcohol he’d been consuming certainly played a role.
The residents were startled at 12:15 a.m. on Sunday when Fitzpatrick landed the plane, between traffic and parked cars. The pilot then disappeared.
When the police saw the plane their thoughts turned back to the 1956 landing, Fitzpatrick was then invited to question, he denied the second exploit but later he gave in when he was identified by the witnesses.
Unfortunately, this time he performed the landing without a valid flying permit, as his flying permit was suspended following his first stunt. He hadn’t renewed his pilot’s license after that.
Bus driver Harvey Roffe, who was sitting in his parked bus when the plane landed, told a reporter, “What the hell could you say if they ever pulled you in on a safety hearing for having an accident with an airplane? “
Fitzpatrick’s Amazing landing Landed him in hot water
Thomas Fitzpatrick’s impressive landing went down in history as some of the wildest stunts to ever happen, drunken or sober, but it doesn’t mean that there weren’t any consequences. As impressed the police were with his skills, many were less enthusiastic about his second offense.
The first time, Fitzpatrick got lucky, he was initially charged with grand larceny and for violating the city’s administrative codes which prohibited planed from landing in the city streets. Also, the owner declined to press charges on the larceny, so the first charge was dropped, and he was only fined for $100.
The second time wasn’t lucky for him, though he tried to deny that he was the pilot who landed the plane on the street, but confessed after several witnesses identified as the plane’s pilot.
For the second landing Thomas Firzpatrick was charged with grand larceny, dangerous and reckless operation of a plane, violation of Civil Aeronautics administration regulation for flying without a valid license, and making an unauthorized landing in city limits.
Judge John A. Mullen sentenced Thomas Fitzpatrick to six months in prison, stating “Had you been properly jolted then, it’s possible this would not have occurred a second time.” To which Fitzpatrick said “it’s the lousy drink” that caused him to pull the stunt.
Fitzpatrick worked as a Steamfitter for 51 years, settling with his wife, Helen, and three sons, Thomas E. Jr, Daniel F, and Stephen P. Fitzpatrick. He died of cancer on September 14, 2008, at the age of 79.
Sam Gracia said that “if it happened today, they would call him a terrorist and locked him up and thrown away the key.”