Surprise airplane landings always make headlines. Who will forget Capt. Chesley Sullenberger steering a US Airways jetliner onto the Hudson River in 2009? Then there was a Long Island man who touched down on Rockaway Beach in 2011 and, more recently, a stunt pilot who coasted down safely onto a Suffolk County road.
But the remarkable drunken landings of Tommy Fitz have all but slipped into oblivion. The pilot, Thomas Fitzpatrick, turned a barroom bet into a feat of aeronautic wonder by stealing a plane from a New Jersey airport and landing it on St. Nicholas Avenue in northern Manhattan, in front of the bar where he had been drinking.
As if that were not stupefying enough, the man did nearly the exact same thing two years later. Both landings were pulled off in incredibly narrow landing areas, in the dark – and after a night of drinking in Washington Heights taverns and with a well-lubricated pilot at the controls. Both times ended with Mr. Fitzpatrick charged with wrongdoing.
The first of his flights was around 3 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1956, when Mr. Fitzpatrick, then 26, took a single-engine plane from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey and took off without lights or radio contact and landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street.
The New York Times called it a “fine landing” and reported that it had been widely called “a feat of aeronautics.”
The second flight was on Oct. 4, 1958, just before 1 a.m.
Again he took a plane from Teterboro and this time landed on Amsterdam and 187th Street in front of a Yeshiva University building after having “come down like a marauder from the skies,” in the words of Ruben Levy, the magistrate at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s ensuing arraignment. Newspapers reported that Mr. Fitzpatrick jumped out of the landed plane wearing a gray suit and fled, but later turned himself in.