Ernie Pretsch, 89, of Payson, died Nov. 14, 2000, at his home in Payson. He was born in 1911 in West Prussia.
He was inspired to fly while watching reconnaissance planes fly to the front during World War I. He immigrated to America at age 13, entering the U.S. through the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor.
Ernie learned to fly at Roosevelt Field on Long Island and became an aviation pioneer. He started the Island Crop Dusting Company in northern Maine. He sprayed crops until he was hired by Transcontinental and Western Airlines-TWA, and he spent 32 years in the captain's seat of TWA aircraft. He flew every airplane TWA operated, from the Douglas DC-2 to the Boeing 747.
In the early 1950s, Germany contracted with TWA to restart Lufthansa Airlines following World War II. He became Lufthansa's chief pilot, personally supervising every aspect of cockpit crew operations. Policies he initiated are still followed today, and Lifthansa's world-renowned safety record is a testimony to Pretsch's meticulous attention to detail and rigidly enforced standards.
In 1955, Pretsch flew West German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer to Moscow for the famous meeting that resulted in the release of more than 10,000 German POWs held by Russia after World War II. Captain Pretsch considered the Moscow trip the highlight of his aviation career. With Lufthansa re-established, Pretsch was recalled by TWA and flew Lockheed Constellations and Boeing 707s and 747s across the Atlantic until he retired in 1971.
In 1967, he started Marathon Flight School at the Kissimmee Airport in Florida. The flight school matured, expanded, and grew into Marathon Flight Services, a full-service aviation company now run by Pretsch's grandchildren.
Survivors include his wife of nine years, Susan Pretsch; two daughters, Jeanne Birks and her husband, Bob, of Kissimmee, Fla. and Joanne Wright and her husband, Douglas, of Stamford, Conn.; one daughter-in-law, Shirley Pretsch of Kissimmee, Fla.; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, and son Bob.
Memorial Services were held today (Friday, Nov. 17). A second memorial service will be held in Kissimmee, Fla. Nov. 26.
Donations may be made to Mogollon Health Alliance, Payson.
Arrangements were handled by Messinger Payson Funeral Home.