The Liberty Gazette
January 3, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Gary Baker was a jolly fella who wanted more human contact than he got through his “Seven-Seas BBS,” an early variation on what we now call the Internet, or World Wide Web, and something that Al Gore didn’t have anything to do with. I met Gary about 20 years ago because I was a member of his board and we lived only a few miles apart. Gary couldn’t get out much due to health problems, so on occasion I’d venture by so we could chat face to face.
An electronics whiz, Gary had led an interesting life and we collaborated on stories for a time. We got into the development of an online aviation magazine where we could post our “hangar flying” stories but it never took off. Gary eventually moved from California to Tulsa where over time further health complications and his constantly changing addresses for one reason or another eventually led to us losing contact.
As a child actor his credits include the movie “The High and The Mighty” starring John Wayne. As a young man Gary served our country in the Air Force, based at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands. His specialty was electronic countermeasures. Once discharged he worked in radio as an engineer and later his deep, smooth-as-silk voice got him seated on the other side of the microphone at stations that played oldies or country music.
Gary was also a pilot. He flew, among other things, a DC-3 airliner and later became a Boeing 727 captain. He may have told me once but I don’t recall the airline, just the funny stories he told of airline life. One of those was when he was captain on the DC-3. Someone brought a cat on board and somehow, in the middle of a thunderstorm, the sweet little fur ball got loose and tore through the cabin, invading the cockpit just as another bolt of lightning flashed and thunder banged. The cat went wild, jumped up on the co-pilot’s head and sunk its claws into the poor guy’s scalp. If one can wrestle with a cat, it happened that day. Eventually the cat let go and wedged itself so far down near the co-pilot’s rudder pedals that nobody could get it out. When they landed the co-pilot nursed his wounds, leaving the fight with the cat to the ground crew.
Gary was furloughed when his airline scaled back operations. While waiting to be recalled he worked as a truck driver. He stopped on the side of the road one day to fix some lights on the upper part of the back of his truck. As he stood atop his ladder a drunk driver ran into the back of the truck knocking Gary backwards. He hit the pavement 14 feet below, flat on his back. The blow tore his heart from its surrounding tissue and caused major internal injuries. A medical helicopter just happened to be flying by at the time and its passenger, a world-renown Houston heart surgeon, saw the accident as it happened, and ordered the helicopter to land. Gary was stabilized, loaded into the helicopter, and within an hour he was in the operating room with possibly the best heart surgeon ever. Due to the accident Gary never flew as a pilot again. I wish I knew now whatever became of him.