The pilot who once flew fugitive financier Robert Vesco from place to place remembers him as a fearful “white knuckles passenger.” Vesco’s coloring these days is more likely an outraged shade of purple. Last month the pilot, a 45-year-old daredevil named Alwyn (“Ike”) Eisenhauer, “repossessed” Vesco’s $3.5 million Boeing 707, flying it from Panama to New Jersey, where it was impounded by a court order.
Eisenhauer pulled off the brazen stunt in order to collect about $55,000 in back pay and other expenses that he says Vesco owes him. It was one of the few successful attempts to recover anything from Vesco, who is accused of bilking $224 million from overseas mutual funds. For more than two years Vesco has been living in the Bahamas and Costa Rica.
In 1971 Eisenhauer, then Vesco’s chief pilot, helped his boss lease the surplus airplane and oversaw the refitting to include such amenities as a bar, sauna and dance floor. Then, when Vesco’s financial network soured, Eisenhauer’s job fell through, and about two months ago Vesco ordered the jet parked in Panama, where he thought it would be safe from his creditors.
Back in the United States, Eisenhauer proposed sneaking the plane home to a New Jersey judge, who gave tacit approval to the scheme on behalf of the airplane’s owners, a holding company that had gone into receivership. The plane is its principal asset.
Eisenhauer and a crew of two flew to Panama on a commercial jet and wangled a meeting with the country’s director of civil aviation. The official was still angry because the pilots Vesco had hired to fly the airplane to Panama had landed without the proper clearance. Brags Eisenhauer: “I wrote a beautiful letter apologizing and explaining I represented the legal owner.” Then he sat down for a formal meeting with the Panamanian official, where the two discovered they were both old fighter pilots. “He came around the desk and shook my hand with both of his,” says Eisenhauer. It was then he knew the ploy had worked. Eisenhauer and his crew went to the airfield, readied the plane and made an uneventful flight to the United States.
The airplane will probably be sold—a rock band has expressed interest—and it will be sorely missed by Vesco, who sometimes would put in as many as 28 days out of a month aboard the jet. “He liked to work in it,” recalls Eisenhauer, “wearing his wine-colored lounging pajamas. It was like his security blanket. The crew was all on 24-hour alert—always on the go. Before you could even finish your drink you were in another country.” Though Vesco often ordered exotic meals prepared for his guests, his own favorite was pizza cooked aboard the plane and an inexpensive chianti.
Ironically, Vesco disliked flying, especially in turbulence. “Once,” recalls Vesco former chief stewardess Dottie McCarthy, “we hit an air pocket and a galley door banged open. Bob dropped to his knees and yelled, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And he walked back to his seat on his knees.”