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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 4, 2010

When WaikÔkÔ got buzzed

By Lee Cataluna

The plane flew so close to the control tower at Honolulu International Airport that the controllers scurried for cover down the stairway. It flew as low as 15 feet from the ground, buzzing trees in Portlock. It threaded the needle around Waikīkī hotels, skirting the Moana Surfrider by about 20 feet.

On this, our last week of publication, Advertiser readers have sent in remembrances of their favorite stories. For Ken Condon of Eugene, Ore., it was the infamous stolen B-25 bomber incident of May 1965.

Condon was born on O'ahu and was an Advertiser delivery boy as a kid.

"I would always read through the paper before delivering it and I remember a story where an angry and drunk pilot stole a WWII bomber from Hickam Field and buzzed the hotels of Waikīkī," Condon wrote in a letter to the editor.

"The story was a really big deal at the time."

Though it was a big story, it played like a farce. What would be seen as an act of terrorism by today's sensibilities was called a "joyride" in 1965.

Advertiser artist Harry Lyons drew a cartoon that accompanied the story showing a gleeful red-nosed pilot zooming crazily through Waikīkī. The whole incident was seen as a lark.

And it was a lark.

Bob Hampton of Hawai'i Kai was a buddy of "wayward pilot" Jim Ashdown, a Maui-born former Air Force pilot who had served in the Korean War. Hampton and Ashdown were working together on a real estate TV show for KGMB at the time.

"One night while we were having our pau hana drink, Jim told us that he had a bad day and left us for home.

Instead, he went out to the airport," Hampton said. "A buddy of ours, Bill Alexander, lived on the 14th floor of the Ilikai and Jim buzzed his apartment, going between the buildings and so close to Bill's Ilikai apartment that he blew Bill's lānai chairs around. Jim then buzzed Kalākaua Avenue at just above the telephone poles."

Ashdown, nicknamed "Crashdown," was by all accounts an amazingly skilled pilot. By his own admission, he was pretty drunk that night.

After crashing into an unlit radio tower in Waipahu, Ashdown was somehow able to fly the plane back to the airport, where about 40 police officers were waiting for him.

He got five years of probation for "malicious theft of an airplane" and his pilot's license was revoked.

"I was just blowing off steam that night, but unfortunately it was at midnight with a large, noisy plane," Ashdown later said of the incident.

Ashdown died in Florida in 2007 at age 77, but his joyride of May 1965 lives in many memories.