World Airways Gallery
Warren held several positions during his 40-year career at World Airways. Position held included First Officer, Captain, Chief Pilot, Vice President of Far East Operations, Vice President of Operations, Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, and Corporate Executive Vice President.
OPERATION BABYLIFT and
HOMEWARD BOUND OPERATION BABYLIFT
Possibly the most memorable events during the history of World Airways occurred in early 1975. One involved the attempt by Mr. Daly and World Airways to rescue women and children who were trying to flee DaNang, Vietnam. The other was Operation Babylift – the transport of orphans from Saigon to the United States. Some informative reporting of these events can be found at these links.
Homesick Angel: Last Flight from DaNang by History Net
Oakland Aviation Museum page
In 2005, thirty years after Operation Babylift, World Airways flew a group of the orphans who were rescued in 1975 back to Saigon to visit. The flight was called Homeward Bound – Operation Babylift. The orphans were accompanied on the flight by World Airways executives and employees. Here is a link to a good account of the trip.
Homeward Bound – Operation Babylift by Adopt Vietnam
Warren had retired two months before Homeward Bound and was pleased to be able to accompany the orphans on their trip to Saigon. The people in the “Departure to Saigon” picture are (L-R); Chairman of the Board, Ron Fogelman, and his wife Miss Jane; Warren Vest; CEO Randy Martinez and his wife Jennifer; and Mr. Hollis Harris, ex-CEO.
MAYDAY at 40,000 FEET
In 1976, World Airways provided the aircraft for the movie “Mayday at 40,000 feet”. Warren performed the actual flying scenes in the movie and assisted the actors in how to perform during the cockpit scenes.
WORLD STARTS SCHEDULED PASSENGER FLIGHTS
In 1979, World entered the arena of scheduled passenger flights. The spokesman for World Airways scheduled service was George Burns.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS NOW TOUR
In 1988, World Airways was hired to transport the performers and equipment for the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour. Warren was excited to have the opportunity to fly Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N’Dour to performances in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Warren’s youngest son, Brian, turned 16 during this time. All five performers signed
THE MUSLIM PILGRIMAGE (HAJJ) EXPERIENCE
by Warren Vest
My first exposure to the pilgrimage “Hajj” was in 1961 when I was Chief Pilot of Air Jordan of the Holy Land. We transported our Jordanian pilgrims and contracted to fly the Kuwaiti pilgrims to Jeddah for their journey to Mecca. In 1962, I found myself living in Saudi Arabia and fully involved with the Hajj. During that era, pilgrims arrived from around the world via propeller-driven airplanes and ships from as far away as Malaysia and Indonesia. While flying a DC-3 or a Convair 340 across the Arabian Desert it was not uncommon to sight a camel caravan headed in the direction of Mecca. Annual Hajj attendance in the early 1960s was about 300,000 pilgrims.
More than a decade later, in mid-1973, when American combat operations were officially ending in Vietnam, World Airways decided to fill their winter schedule by contracting with Indonesian Airlines to support their annual Hajj operation from Surabaya and Jakarta to Jeddah. No more than twelve years earlier, the Indonesians were making this long trip by ship. Now they were traveling on World Airways modern Boeing 707 aircraft non-stop to Jeddah.
World Airways continued to serve the Indonesia pilgrims and those of Malaysia, India, Algeria, Turkey, Mali, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia for nearly three decades. During the earlier days, our crewmembers of the Jewish faith were not allowed to be assigned to Hajj flights. Also, our crews were not allowed to have an Israeli stamp in their passport. When we flew into Israel, at our request, the authorities would put their stamp on a blank piece of paper instead of on our passport. Fortunately and thankfully that situation eased over the years.
A book could be written about each and every Hajj World Airways participated in over nearly thirty years. Three to five aircraft, cockpit crewmembers, supervisory flight attendants, maintenance personnel, and ground support people were dispatched halfway around the world each year for ten to twelve weeks away from home and family to serve people of the Muslim faith.
Islam is a simple and personal religion that has five primary duties, known as the five pillars of Islam. The first pillar is the Profession of Faith, the second pillar is Prayer, the third pillar is Charity, the fourth pillar is Fasting and the fifth pillar is Pilgrimage or “The Hajj”. The Hajj is an act of piety recommended to each Muslim.
It is a conditional obligation required only of those who have the means to perform it. Many save until they reach old age to make this very grueling trip, which can span a period of six weeks in climatic temperature in excess of 100 degrees and challenging living conditions.
Muslims believe that to die while performing the Hajj is an honor, worthy of eternal life. The vast majority who passed on at the Hajj was buried in Mecca or in Madinah where Prophet Muhammad was buried. The Hajj policy was if they passed away during their flight, the flight would proceed to its destination. The worst encounter I experienced was as Captain of a B-747 flight from Jeddah to Algiers when we had six very elderly passengers pass away during the flight.
The Hajj assignments, being away from home for several weeks, allowed our World employees to get involved with local orphanages in far-away places. A very memorable act on the part of our flight attendants was volunteering their assistance in an Orangutan Orphanage outside of Balikpapan on the Island of Borneo. The adult Orangutans were being killed by poachers and without the orphanage, the little ones could not survive.
The final two years of World Airways Hajj operations were 2000 and 2001 and found us back in Indonesia. We operated out of Solo on the Island of Java and Balikpapan on the Island of Borneo in 2000. The following year in 2001 we operated three MD-11 aircraft from Balikpapan. We transported 409 pilgrims on each flight and this final year was one of the most efficient and profitable years in our Hajj history.
The solemn part of these two great years was the sudden illness and passing of Flight Attendant Olga Bakker while on her days off from Balikpapan and visiting Bali. A memorial was erected in the rain forest of Borneo in her memory and her support of the Orangutan Orphanage there.
My memories of the Hajj Pilgrimage will be with me forever. When I first worked it in 1961 the number of pilgrims was about 350,000. The number that made the journey in 2018 was 2,352,000. Learn more about the modern-day Hajj via the following links.