1977

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Double Eagle II Crosses the Atlantic

When I walked into the office of the AP-Paris one day in '77, Jacques Langevin, a stringer, was preparing the suitcase darkroom and transmitter for a trip. (You undoubtedly know Jacques' name. He's a superb photojournalist and a really nice guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Lady Di was tragically killed in the Paris auto accident.) Jacques was off to the Normandy coast to cover the arrival of the first transatlantic balloon crossing.

Moments after Jacques raced out the door, the bureau Photo Chief, Mr. Michael O'Reilly Nash, called me in. " You may be wondering why Jacques is going instead of you," he asked in his very British accent as he sat back and twirled his handle-bar moustache. "This balloon's not going to make it," he continued. "But, we had to send someone, just in case." Sure enough, Jacques drove around Normandy all night long in miserable weather, chasing false reports of landings.

It was many years before I fully appreciated how helpful Mr. Nash, may he rest in peace, was to my career. He was always quietly making sure that I was given the right assignments, the ones that built reputations. I regret to this day that he died before I realized this and got a chance to thank him.

Double Eagle II

 

 

Maxie Anderson and his crew reach land over the French coastline in 1977 aboard the Double Eagle II. Upon landing in a corn field under a sky filled with press helicopters, French farmers flooded the fields and engulfed the adventurers. With champagne in hand, the crew toasted their achievement and slept that night in the same bedroom at the American Embassy in Paris that was used by Charles Lindbergh after his flight. This image graced the cover of Newsweek Magazine at the time. (photo © Randy Taylor)

Not many weeks later, Mr. Nash called me in again. "There's a helicopter waiting for you at the airport," he said. Double Eagle II was approaching the French coastline. Now, if you've ever heard the expression "Looking for a needle in a haystack", finding this balloon was the epitomy of that. We flew up and down the coast, sighting dozens of tiny specs on the horizon, until one turned out to be the balloon.

It was also one of thoes exciting and memorable, fleeting moments in my life. At the instant that Maxi Anderson and the others touched down in a farmer's field, a half-dozen helicopters were jockeying for position overhead, like so many seagulls waiting to be fed. The sun was exactly setting. Cars stopped along the highway, and people ran joyously through the chest-high barley to greet the adventurers. Within seconds, the barley was trampled as flat as a stage, champaign corks flew, and the dirty, unshaven crew were hoisted onto shoulders in a frenzied celebration reminiscent of the American liberation of France. In fact, the farmer who's crops were trampled (and paid for by the balloonists) later said how happy he was that he could finally repay America in some small way for rescuing France in WWII.

The crew received a hero's welcome in Paris where they drew lots to see who would sleep in the Lindberg bedroom at the U.S. Embassy. My shot of the balloon crossing into France was played really well, including the covers of Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. The AP gave me another raise, my third in a year, and everyone slept well, except maybe for Jacques.



randy g taylor
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