The "Phoenix" under construction at Orange County Airport in the spring of 1965. The center section-aft fuselage construction joint is clearly seen here, where the wood covering meets the metal skin of the center section. This is where the fuselage broke. (Scott Thompson Collection)
A scan from the 1966-1967 "Janes All The World's Aircraft" showing the photo that went with its entry on the "Tallmantz Phoenix." The photo appears to show the completed airplane in an overall dark paint primer, on the ramp at Orange County. The design was such as to provide a 3/4 scale flying version of the C-82 boom constructed airplane to be used by the stranded survivors of a desert plane crash. (Henry Artof)
A video capture from the film shows the ground-bound version of the "Phoenix," this one actually built from parts of a C-82. The engine runs and it looks like it could actually fly. The actors are dragging it across the movie set at Buttercup Valley in the pre-takeoff scenes in the film. It remains a gripping motion picture, and better than the remake done years later.
This scan of an AP Wirephoto shows Paul Mantz and the Tallmantz crew with the "Phoenix." Newspaper captions published at the time of the accident say that this photo was taken on the Yuma ramp on the day before the accident after Mantz had successfully flown the airplane. However, James Rogers, a Tallmantz employee, notes that this photo was actually taken earlier, at Orange County Airport. He identifies himself in the photo as the third person from the left, in the leather jacket, and adds that he never went to Yuma so it's not possible the photo was taken there. Others possibly in the photo (verification needed) are Frank Pine (fourth from the left) and Wayne Burtt (on the ladder). Second gentleman from the left may be Carroll Wright, a long-time Paul Mantz associate. Can anyone verify these identities?
Another video capture from the film showing the scene that ended up in the film taken from the first shot done on Thursday morning. Mantz can be seen hunched over the controls with stuntman Bobby Rose behind him as the film shows the takeoff. The figures on the wings are clearly plywood cutouts to represent the passengers being carried.
Mantz made exaggerated maneuvers for the director as he climbed out, making the awkward airplane seem even more tenuous than it already was.
In the completed film, the "Phoenix" staggers over a sand dune to the west of the takeoff scene, a dramatic and effective shot believed shot in the same take with a camera positioned west of the main scene.
Studio still showing the airplane, probably during the first low pass of the morning. Bobby Rose can be seen hunched under the metal bracing, with Mantz in the cockpit just forward of him. The plywood cutouts bolted to the wings are obvious only if you are looking for it. Mantz found the "Phoenix" would not fly with the originally-planned dummies spoiling lift on the wings. (20th Century Fox)
On the second run of the morning, Mantz had an excessive descent going that we wasn't able to arrest before the "Phoenix" unexpectedly hit the ground.
The airplane hits hard and the wings are seen to visibly flex downward, and both Mantz and Rose are seen to be jolted by the hard landing. The "Phoenix" bounces and staggers back into the air.
Just becoming airborne again, the tail has already broken and is starting to buckle.
Another camera caught this view a moment later, with the tail dropping and the nose pivoting forward.
An admittedly poor quality view, this is included to show another different angle of the disintegration than normally seen. The tail kept flying forward even as the center section and wings tucked under and tumbled. This view was included in the October 9, 1965, edition of the "Saturday Evening Post."
Aftermath of the accident as a stunned film crew and Tallmantz group try and sort things out.
Events Surrounding the Death of Paul Mantz
By Scott A. Thompson
The following account was revised again on December 13, 2009, to incorporate the material a bit better.
A tragic accident took the life of Paul Mantz on July 8, 1965. The airplane he was flying, the Phoenix, was a movie prop constructed by Tallmantz Aviation for use in the filming of The Flight of the Phoenix. The events that surrounded the accident have been obscured by the passing of time but also by inaccurate accounts of the accident that have now become "facts." Some of the "facts" are not really accurate, so this is an attempt to place a straightforward account of events surrounding the accident.
Building the Phoenix
Sometime in late 1964 or early 1965, a production company, The Associates and Aldrich, went into contract with Tallmantz Aviation to construct an airplane to be used for the flying sequences for the forthcoming production of The Flight of the Phoenix, which producer and director Robert Aldrich was making in association with 20th Century Fox. Frank Tallman, on behalf of Tallmantz Aviation, began working with noted airplane designer and veteran aviator Otto Timm to design a suitable airplane using many components of existing airplanes to speed the construction along. The goal was to create a flying airplane that would resemble one of the booms of a Fairchild C-82 Packet rebuilt to fly after a crash landing in the desert, built in 3/4 scale. According to the 1966-1967 edition of Jane's All the World's Aircraft, the Tallmantz Phoenix used Beech C-45 wings, a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 from an T-6, and the rear fuselage and tail unit were constructed of wood with plywood covering. The C-45 wings were purchased on March 3, 1965, for $300. The R-1340 had received a top overhaul from Fast-Way Engine Overhaul of Long Beach for a total of $1,485, being delivered to Tallmantz on May 11.
The FAA airframe file reveals that the cowling and engine mount were from the T-6. The wheels, propeller, and the cockpit controls were also from the T-6 trainer. The wing center section was built by Tallmantz to accommodate the C-45 wing panels and the engine mounting. The makeshift open cockpit was installed behind the engine. It is noted that the aft fuselage section was of a tubular steel framework with wooden formers covered in plywood. The landing gear structure was hand built and tried to conceal the T-6 wheels. A small tail wheel, actually the nose wheel from a Navion, was installed. Fuel and oil tanks, plumbing, and controls were all installed and rigged.
Tallman Injured, Mantz Steps In
From the beginning, Frank Tallman was set to fly the airplane for the film. On Saturday, May 8, Tallman broke his leg in a go-kart accident with his son. On Monday, May 10, Tallman asked his partner Paul Mantz to take over and fly the Phoenix for the film. Pressure was building because, contractually, the airplane was to be airworthy and available on location at Yuma, Arizona, on June 19, 1965. On May 15, Mantz flew to Yuma for a meeting with Robert Aldrich and to look over the location that had been picked for the movie shots. Mantz drove over the terrain with a sand truck, had it measured off, and suggested the placement of 2" x 2" boards or mats under a dirt covering to construct a safe landing strip. Evidently, his suggestion was not heeded. Also at that point, Mantz called Otto Timm and advised him that larger wheels and tires were needed for the Phoenix, a change that was not incorporated until later.
Initial Test Flights Cancelled
The construction of the Phoenix was completed on June 14. The FAA inspected the airplane and its paperwork, and issued an Experimental airworthiness certificate and a civil registration of N93082 in the name of Tallmantz Aviation on that same date. Engine runs were completed. The following day Mantz planned to test fly the airplane, but that attempt was cancelled due to overcast weather. The following day, June 16, another planned test flight was cancelled due to an excessive crosswind.
On June 17, two days before the airplane was due at Yuma, Mantz planned a test flight. While in the cockpit, he had the Phoenix towed to the runway at Orange County. Because the airplane lacked a steerable tail wheel, a special dolly had to be used to tow the airplane. Mantz first attempted a high-speed taxi test. He aborted that test as he reported the tail came up too fast as he moved down the runway. He tried again with the same result. Taxiing back to the Tallmantz hangar, the right wheel collapsed, blowing out the tire. He now ordered the larger wheels and tires installed, those he had seen the need for a month earlier. He also ordered changes to the trim tabs to eliminate the tail coming up so quickly. Martha Marchak reports that Mantz was upset by the rigid landing gear...that no oleo struts were installed and he foresaw problems with the coming landings on the movie set. He confided to the Marchak that the nose was so heavy that the airplane could not take off. Mantz advised the film crew in Yuma of the impending delay, the crew being upset that the airplane was not ready. A Tallmantz crew left for Yuma that same day to make preparations while Tallmantz mechanics worked on the Phoenix to correct the problems found.
It was not for a whole week later, on June 24, that the Phoenix was towed back out to the runway for another attempted flight. Mantz completed a high-speed taxi test but was not satisfied with the controllability, and was also concerned about other aircraft parked alongside the runway, that he wouldn't be able to steer the airplane well enough to avoid hitting one of them. It was then evidently decided to abandon flight tests at Orange County and conduct them at Yuma.
On to Yuma
On Friday, June 25, the Phoenix was disassembled and trucked the 250 miles from Orange County to the Yuma Airport. It arrived on two trucks, one carrying the fuselage and the other with intact wings. The following day, Saturday, the Tallmantz crew reassembled the aircraft and conducted the pre-flight checks. A studio crew painted the airplane to match the ground-bound studio prop, and appropriately aged and dressed the airplane. Film schedule pressure was building to get the airplane in the air and in front of the cameras. Mantz was on site, apparently flying down in a Tallmantz Piper Apache. He was soon busy talking to the control tower, FAA inspectors, and also arranging for a Marine rescue crash helicopter to be available for his flights.
On Sunday, June 27, Mantz was ready for another high-speed taxi test and, if successful, a test flight. As the Phoenix rolled down the runway with Mantz at the controls, Marchak observed the airplane shimmy right and left, smoke coming from the landing gear, and the tail lifting off the ground. Mantz aborted the test and later explained to Marchak that the wheels were rubbing against the skids, acting as brakes, to the point where the sidewalls of the tires had nearly burnt through. He added that it was so nose heavy that he "could feel it wanting to nose over." Tallmantz mechanics cut metal out of the skids to make more room for the larger wheels and tires. The next day, on Monday, Mantz tested the airplane again. This time the Phoenix moved without rubbing the tires, but the tail came up so fast and nose was so heavy that it would not fly. Mantz deduced that the horizontal stabilizer was so large that it was creating too much (negative) lift (pushing the nose down). He called Otto Timm and they decided to shim the horizontal stabilizer 1 1/2 inches to change its angle of incidence. This was done with wood.
Mantz tried again on Tuesday, June 29. Local newspaper accounts of the first flight tell that the first two takeoff attempts were aborted, and Mantz brought the airplane back to his mechanics for adjustments. He finally flew the airplane off the runway and, from the newspaper account, "took the ungainly looking bird around the Yuma International Airport." From other accounts, it barely flew and staggered around the pattern long enough for Mantz to get the airplane back on the ground. His comments to the press were predictable: "It flies like a dream," Mantz commented after landing. "The nose gets too heavy at slow speeds, but we can correct that. It can do just about anything." He finished with "That airplane will take it all right. It's built like a brick outhouse." Privately, to his crew, he admitted the control forces during the flight were so heavy that if he took his hands off the controls the nose would drop sharply. But he was happy that the airplane flew and felt that with some more lead in the tail and some control system adjustments, it would fly okay.
The Filming Plan
The next day, another newspaper account noted that Robert Aldrich and the film's cast, including Jimmy Stewart, were finishing their last scenes at the desert set that day, and would be departing the following day (Thursday, July 1) to begin filming at the studio for interior and night shots. Second unit director Oscar Rudolph would remain on the desert set to do the aerial sequences. Notably, the article lays out the plan for the filming:
"Both the pilot (Mantz) and the plane will be well put to the test by the final filming sequences as Mantz lands the odd-looking bird in the Buttercup Valley area of the sand dunes, takeoff from an old quarry, and lands again in the desert. And if it's like most movie scenes, he may have to do it several times. The script calls for just the bumps, turns, and twists wanted, both on takeoff and in the air, and Aldrich isn't the kind of director who'll accept a scene which doesn't measure up just because it would cost time and money to shoot it again."
On that Wednesday, June 30, Mantz was ready for the first flight before the camera, even though he had barely been able to get around the pattern. However, the studio chose not to film that day, and instead the airplane was fitted with three dummies on each wing to represent the airplane's passengers, and a radio was installed for Mantz.
On Thursday, July 1, Mantz flew the Tallmantz Apache from Yuma to the filming location in Buttercup Valley, where it was planned Mantz would do the takeoff scene. Buttercup Valley lies about 17 miles west of Yuma and south of what is now Interstate 8 at the southern edge of what is called the "Dunes," a band of impressive sand dunes that have long been a favorite for moviemakers. He met with the second unit director, Oscar Rudolph, and flew through the valley with the Apache, feeling out the wind currents and the establishing the peculiarities of the location. He then flew the Apache back to Yuma where the Phoenix waited. With five dummies on the wings and stuntman Bobby Rose in the fuselage behind him, Mantz attempted a flight. The Phoenix would not fly, Mantz attributing it to spoiled lift on the wings and the heavy nose. The outer dummies were removed from the wing and Mantz flew the airplane around the field again, complaining once again that the nose was so heavy that if he relaxed his grip on the controls at all, the nose would sharply drop. Mantz told his crew that he was "using all his 38 years of flying experience on this bird."
The next day, July 2, he flew early on another test flight. This time, when Mantz landed, the airplane hit hard and the landing gear buckled. Mantz reported that with the dummies and Rose on the airplane he could not get the nose up and could not avoid dropping the airplane in during the landing. Mantz again called Otto Timm and it was decided to add another fifty pounds of weight to the tail and insert a control stick extension to give Mantz more control authority. Those changes and the repair to the landing gear took two days.
On Saturday, July 3, a Tallmantz B-25 cameraship, believed to be N1203, arrived with Frank Pine. The air-to-air shots of the leased C-82 were begun, with Mantz and Frank Pine flying the B-25 with a studio camera crew.
Martha Marchak does not record this in her document, but Mantz's discomfort with the way the plane flew is revealed in that before the following week's work started, filming plans were changed. Now, Mantz was only going to be making low passes to simulate the landing and takeoff scenes. No doubt Aldrich was disappointed as he would have to shoot around the limitations of the airplane. However, it is easy to conclude that Mantz did not feel the airplane was up to operating off the desert floor, either because of a lack of power or his ability to control the airplane, or both.
On July 4, Independence Day, no flying was done, though it is presumed repairs continued on the Phoenix. On Monday, July 5, Mantz tried another test flight of the Phoenix at 11:15 in the morning. Again, with the dummies on the wings and Rose behind him, the airplane would not fly. Mantz had some of the dummies removed and the airplane would only get a foot or two off the runway. At that time, it was decided to eliminate the dummies and replace them with plywood silhouettes, which were then prepared and installed.
Very early the next morning, Tuesday, before 06:00 a.m., he test flew the airplane again with Rose and the plywood cutouts installed. It was a successful flight and he was reasonably happy with the result. At 06:50 he flew the Apache back to Buttercup Valley to meet with the director and film crew. He then returned to Yuma and, at 09:30 a.m., departed Yuma in the Phoenix with Rose as a passenger, to attempt the first film shots. Before he reached Buttercup Valley, he radioed that his oil temperature was much too high and had to return to Yuma, landing at 10:00 a.m. Mantz had the mechanics remove the viscosity valve and cut the cowling under the cowl flaps. It was too late to attempt another flight of the Phoenix, so Mantz and Pine departed in the B-25 with a film crew and the C-82 for two long flights...a total of four hours of filming, air to air with the C-82.
It looked like all would come together on Wednesday, July 7, and the first shots of the Phoenix would finally be made. Mantz was at the airport at 05:00 to check the Phoenix. Marchak reported that he was tense but in a good mood. At 06:45 a.m., he departed with Rose for Buttercup Valley, calling out his oil temperatures by radio all the way. The plan was now to shoot at the coolest part of the day, at day break, with the rising sun behind Mantz as he made passes from east to west for low approaches and climb outs, not the best lighting angle as the sun was behind the airplane, but the overheating engine had to be accommodated. Mantz lined up and made five low passes, each time skimming low across the desert floor and then making the slow, staggering climbout with exaggerated maneuvering to depict the takeoff scene. He would barely clear a high dune to the west, just to give that added audience thrill as to whether it would make it over the dune. With a satisfied director, Mantz turned eastbound and flew back to Yuma. He climbed down from the Phoenix knowing one of the hardest shots was in the can. Now he had to make simulated landing approaches, easier to do, and complete the air-to-air shots. Mantz took the Apache and flew back to Buttercup Valley to meet with the director. The director wanted to reset the cameras in different locations and reshoot the scene. Mantz was firm that it was too late in the morning...too hot...for him to repeat the shots that day. Mantz instead stayed on location in Buttercup Valley for the rest of the day to set up the shots for the next morning.
So it was that on Thursday, July 8, Mantz and Rose found themselves again in the pre-dawn light on the ramp at Yuma, getting ready to do it again. Martha Marchak recorded the following about that fateful morning:
"Ate an early breakfast and left for the airport. He (Mantz) was now able to make beautiful landings with the Phoenix. He had a flying machine. He was able for the first time to take his hands off the controls. On this morning at 0500 he asked for no (engine) warm-up. He changed into his costume, talked to his mechanic, Bob Siemieniewicz, and to me. He had me clean his goggles. he set the radio in the mobile office--climbed into the cockpit of the Phoenix (Rose was already in his place--he had sewn the earphones into the hat Paul was wearing as Jimmy Stewart) and made a beautiful short take-off from the civilian side of the field. We listened to him all the way over on the radio. On each pass as he went into the valley, he would cut out and then come back on. On the last pass--after waiting a while, we heard the news--Paul Mantz had crashed--0651."
Takeoff at Yuma was at shortly before 06:30 local time, but across the state line, in California's Buttercup Valley, it was 05:30 local time. Temperature on the ground at Yuma was about 77 degrees that morning, forecast to go to a mild (for an Arizona July) 101 degrees by the late afternoon. Sunrise occurred at about 05:40 that morning in Buttercup Valley and Mantz rolled once again into his pattern to make the first low approach just after dawn. The three cameras were in the right position this time, and Mantz dropped to a few feet above the desert floor before beginning the climbout for the takeoff scene. As Mantz once again staggered over the western sand dune, the director knew he had what he wanted. But, just to make sure, he wanted Mantz to do it one more time, an "insurance" shot.
A Saturday Evening Post article records that Mantz fully expected the request, and he was heard to radio back vowing to “give them a good one” and brought the Phoenix around one more time. During the second approach, at 05:51 a.m., it was obvious that this time the descent rate was far too high and what ever Mantz was doing to correct it wasn’t enough. The Phoenix unexpectedly hit the desert hard on its makeshift landing gear, hard enough for the wings to visibly flex downward, and hard enough for the Phoenix to sharply bounce back into the air, then settle again onto the surface. Mantz quickly recovered from the unexpected landing and struggled to stabilize the airplane and get it back in the air. But the first jarring impact had neatly snapped the top of the fuselage just aft of the wing where the wooden structure attached to the center section. The fuselage split in half, with the tail section still moving in the direction of flight as the heavy nose section fell forward. As the fuselage disintegrated, the out of balance nose dropped and the front of the skids dug in to the desert. The resulting wreckage tumbled across the desert floor. Both Mantz and Rose were ejected, and Mantz was killed instantly. Rose was thrown clear, miraculously surviving the crash but with serious injuries.
A stunned film crew rushed to the wreckage. A Marine Corps helicopter was soon on the scene, airlifting Rose out of the valley and back to a Yuma hospital. Nothing could be done for Mantz. Back at the Yuma airport, the Tallmantz crew received the bad news. That evening and the following day the national newspapers carried Mantz's death on their front pages, complete with vivid sequential photos of the accident, courtesy of the numerous cameras focused on the scene.
Okay, a little bit of well-founded opinion based on reviewing the accident: most of the stories carried an account that the airplane had hit a small dune or that the landing gear "touched the sand," perhaps from eyewitnesses who were trying to diplomatically avoid saying how Mantz, that consummate pilot, had unexpectedly hit the ground, and hard. But the raw footage of the initial impact and subsequent disintegration reveals, at least to this pilot's eye, a misjudged approach and a hard touchdown, probably precipitated by the extreme nose-heavy condition. It is probable that the fuselage joint between the metal center section and the aft tail had, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, been damaged and weakened by the hard landing on July 2, and it completely failed with the hard jolt of the final unintended touchdown. Mantz may have misjudged the approach, but his fate was sealed the moment the fuselage broke. He became a very vulnerable passenger at that instant.
Also, a reasonable estimate would put the air temperature at no more than about 80 degrees shortly after daybreak. At sea level and something close to standard barometric pressure, the density altitude was therefore about 1500 feet and a relatively minor factor for airplane performance. A tale repeated often speaks of temperatures near 130 degrees at the time of the accident, clearly incorrect.
The next few days were a blur for everybody involved. Mantz’s body, not ironically, was flown back to Orange County on his beloved B-25 camera ship. Mantz was later laid to rest at a memorial park just a few miles from his Orange County base after a well-attended funeral on July 12. Luminaries from both the aviation and entertainment worlds gathered to pay their respects, including his friend and fellow pilot Jimmy Stewart wearing the unkempt beard stubble demanded for the Flight of the Phoenix role he was still filming.
The movie, of course, remained in production, but key scenes planned for the ending of the film remained unshot. The footage from Buttercup Valley was usable, up until the accident anyway, but it amounted to a minute or less of film. The film crew, having no airplane to film, packed up and moved back to Hollywood while other plans were considered. As the impending film release date approached, Twentieth Century Fox finally came up with a makeshift replacement. A stubby North American O-47 belonging to The Air Museum at Ontario, California, was hurriedly modified to fill in as the Phoenix, at least for distant shots. The landing scenes were awkwardly deleted from the script but the end of the film ended essentially as planned, with the survival of the eight men from their desert ordeal. The Mantz footage depicting the takeoff amounted to about 18 seconds in the completed film, with the replacement O-47 footage occupying about the same time in later scenes. The completed film, released in December 1965, does the best with what it has, but the loss of the flying Phoenix early in the filming sequence is obvious.
On July 1, 1966, almost a year to the day after the accident, Mantz's widow filed a $150,000 civil suit against Tallmantz Aviation for the negligent manufacturing of the airplane that her husband was killed in. The stuntman riding behind Mantz, Bobby Rose, concurrently filed a $100,000 civil suit against Tallmantz to recover damages he suffered in the accident. Both suits were filed with the Superior Court in Los Angeles County. There is no record of the disposition of the Theresa Mantz suit. The Bobby Rose suit wasn't settled until October 13, 1971, with Rose collecting $28,000 from the insurance company and Tallmantz Aviation. But those impending civil suits and the need to settle the Mantz estate precipitated Frank Tallman's early 1966 decision to sell off a portion of the Tallmantz collection to raise needed cash.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), precursor to the modern NTSB, routinely conducted accident investigations and they did one on the Mantz accident. In January 1967 the results of that investigation were released. Most surprising was the determination that Mantz's blood had shown an alcohol value of .13 grams per 100 millimeters. The current California standard for driving while under the influence is .08, and the FAA regulation for flying allows no more that .04 and at least eight hours since drinking. It would seem that Mantz was under the influence at the time of the accident. Specifically, the CAB showed the probable cause as 1) the pilot misjudged his altitude and 2), he was physically impaired by alcohol.
A few items from the report should be highlighted.
Examination of the right landing gear revealed evidence of the previous hard landing damage (editor's note: presumably the July 2 landing). The landing gear was designed with rigid struts and in a manner which transmitted landing loads to the fuselage, essentially undampened. At the time repairs were made after the hard landing, a hard landing inspection was made. This failed to disclose evidence of damage other than that to the right landing gear; however, a photograph of the aircraft after the hard landing incident indicates external paint chipping at the point where the center and aft fuselage are joined.
Examinations by aeronautical and aerospace engineers of the steel-to-wood fuselage longeron fittings, where the failure occurred, showed the design and fabrication of the fittings were in accordance with good aeronautical engineering practice. They concluded that the wood longerons failed in tension due to overloads. The 60-lb. lead weight in the tail section was concluded to have contributed directly to the overload, as did the drag force transmitted to the fuselage by the landing gear when the wheels struck the rise of soft sand. The previous hard landing was considered to have possibly contributed to the failure.
Friends and family were disheartened and unbelieving of the conclusion about Mantz's BAC. Martha Marchak was quick to call the report unfounded, and that she was with Mantz at Yuma both the night before and the morning of the accident. In an interview on the day the results were released, Marchak stated that she and Mantz had had several 'cocktails' at a Yuma restaurant before dining the evening before the accident. She recalled that Mantz had then gone back to his hotel room to get a good night's rest. She and others went to the airport in the early morning, and she noted that Mantz appeared rested and mentally alert--though keyed up as always before a stunt. She added: "I was with him constantly before the takeoff. I know he had had nothing to drink. I knew him for many years, and he never seemed sharper than he did that morning."
Nonetheless, there is that blood alcohol content value reported. And, there is also Mantz's reputation as a drinking pilot back in the days when that was more common. There are numerous accounts of Mantz drinking while flying, including at least one contained in Don Dwiggins' 1967 book Hollywood Pilot. So unless the blood testing was faulty, it is difficult to conclude anything other than Mantz was indeed impaired and his performance may have not been all that he was capable of.
However, it should also be noted that there is one other possibility. Details are sparse about how Mantz's remains were handled that morning. There is evidence suggested here of the possibility that the blood alcohol level could have increased post-mortem under the likely conditions that prevailed for the day of the accident. There is likely little definitive way, short of being able to review the actual autopsy report and detailed knowledge of the aftermath of the accident, to investigate this possibility, but it does suggest another explanation of the unusually high blood alcohol content.
None of this should detract from the fact that Mantz was an outstanding airman and could, even at age 61, probably fly circles around just about anybody. Aside from the possible contributions of alcohol, his fate finally caught up with while he was flying an underpowered, marginally controllable airplane under trying circumstances. He misjudged a bit, something every aviator does, but all he had to control the descent rate was engine power and small pitch adjustments with an extremely nose-heavy airplane. He didn't have flaps to help him adjust his flight path, and he had to baby his engine to keep it from overheating. Once he was committed to the approach his options became very limited and the airplane just got away from him. It was an unfortunate end for a skilled pilot and a respected man.
The on screen dedication from Flight of the Phoenix:
"It should be remembered that Paul Mantz, a fine man and a brilliant flyer, gave his life in the making of this film"
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