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Paul Mantz, circa 1928, fresh out of the Army Air Corps and headed for Hollywood. (Airport Journals)

Above & Beyond: Mantz Versus the Volcano

Filming for Cinerama with a fearless flyer

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“I want cross light, Paul,” Rescher said. “Lit from the front, it doesn’t mean anything.” They were up front looking at a smoking volcano, and all I could see from my side window was grassland that looked like the Florida panhandle. I heard Mantz change propeller pitch and the engines revved, the bomber banking this way and that.

“I’m coming in from northeast,” Mantz said. “Good for you?”

“Swell.”

From my perch, suddenly, over the edge of the left engine and through the spinning prop, I saw a crater yawn, spewing blue smoke; the airplane banked, plunging into the smoke. Roiling lava fire came ever closer and sulfur fumes filled the cabin. Mantz pulled the bomber into an aching turn. I could no longer force my head to look down. Against gravity’s pull I peered up and saw blue sky above the volcano’s rim. I coughed. An engine coughed in reply. I was comforted that although I had but one breathing system to sustain life, the airplane had two engines. The coughing engine and my choking lungs recovered. Up we went, just over the rim, into sunshine.

“I’d like a couple more takes, Paul, just to make sure,” Rescher said.

Which induced a river of salty language and laughter as the airplane leveled off and headed back.

Sometime later I ran into Mantz on the West Coast, and we talked about the smog in Burbank and the smell of the leather in his new Cadillac. No mention of that dawn flight into the African volcano. To him, it was just another day at the office.

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