Remembering Frank Odom
by Denis Symes (MYC-63)
Frank Odom (MYC-63) generally sported a mischievous grin – you could never be sure whether he was laughing with you or at you. He was killed when the Beechcraft Baron (B-28) he was piloting was shot down in Zambia, Africa, on April 5, 1977. He was truly one of the “good guys” who possessed a quick sense of humor and a dry wit.
Originally from Long Beach, California, Frank graduated from the University of Idaho (UI) in 1964 with a degree in Forest Management and was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He delighted going home at Christmas and surfing; “It always amazes the surfing crowd to see a “white body” wearing an Idaho T-shirt keeping up with them,” he once observed.
Frank jumped from McCall in 1963-65 and formed a key part of the UI contingent of jumpers. I recall that Frank, John Rasmussen (MYC-59), Ray Roark (MYC-63) and Jim Swartley (MYC-63) formed the nucleus of this group, and they shared a group “party house” on Payette Lake’s eastern side. Jim recalled that Frank once visited him at the University of Washington while Jim was in medical school and they went to a sports car race at the Seattle Raceway. The cars were a bit faster than his tan 1961 Volkswagen!
During the ’60s, Frank worked for charter operators performing government-support activities in Southeast Asia (remember Air America?). In the ‘70s, he flew in Africa, eventually earning a Zambian Commercial Pilot’s license flying charter flights for a local air charter company. At the time, flying in Zambia was rather primitive due to unreliable weather reports and limited radio contact once outside major cities. Also, there were several military conflicts occurring in the region, one in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Namibia conflict, both on Zambia’s southern and western borders.
On the morning of April 5, 1977, Frank took off with 6 passengers for a tourist fishing camp on the Zambezi River in far Western Zambia, not far from the Rhodesian and Namibian borders. Fearing aircraft attacks from white-ruled South Africa and Rhodesia, Zambian troops were armed with SA-7 “Strela” ground to air missiles provided by the Soviet Union. To prevent accidents, the Zambian government also prohibited flying into airfields along these borders without prior authorization.
Upon approaching the landing field, Odom’s plane passed over the runway once and then made an approach to land. On the final approach, the plane passed over a Zambian army air defense unit stationed at the field. It appears that the unit had not received notice of the flight. The unit’s commander authorized firing a missile, which impacted the plane and blew off a wing – the plane was totally destroyed by the impact. A friend of Frank’s, who was also a Consular Officer at the American Embassy, identified him from his reddish-blond hair and his Rolex watch.
The Consular Officer heard from an American friend that Frank often expressed a desire to be buried at sea. The Officer later attended a conference in Mahe, Seychelles – a group of beautiful tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. While there, he rented a sailboat and took the urn containing Frank’s ashes several miles out to sea where, reading the pilot’s poem “High Flight”, he released Frank to the sea.
I can still recall his grin.
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Remembering Frank Odom