On December 12, 1968, Pan Am Flight 217, a Boeing 707, crashed near Caracas, Venezuela and all 51 passengers on board were killed. One of the crew members – an air stewardess as they were then called – was Franciska Buyers who must have been 23 years old at the time.

All this came to mind yesterday when I happened to google, as I some times do, trying to locate people I used to know when I lived in London as a student in the sixties. I was searching for Anton Buyers, Franciska’s younger brother who was a student at Cambridge University when she was killed. I did not locate him but when I did a search relating to the circumstances of the crash of Pan Am 217, lo and behold, I found several references to that ill-fated flight. In fact, I did not know the flight number but knew that it crashed near Venezuela towards the end of 1968.

So why am I writing about Franciska – she was not an old flame though she was a friend. But only three of the victims of the crash were named in the google searches that I did – there was no mention of Franciska and I decided that, with this posting, I would remedy the situation. The named victims – sometimes an almost cursory mention – included a moving account by, Brian, the son of the first officer on the flight, William Canell who was only eight months old when his father was killed. There was mention of the name of the captain, Sid Stillwaugh. Finally, a reference to one of the passengers Olga Antonetti, a former Miss Venezuela.

I did finally locate mention of Franciska’s name in the St. Petersburg Times, dated December 14, 1968, available on the web = though itis not something that would surface in most searches. Also mentioned are other names including stewardess trainee M. Ambrey who was believed to be on her maiden flight in her new role. Other victims names also appear in this newspaper report.

Brian Cannell, the son of the first officer on the flight, in a gesture of remembrance of his father, constructed a model of the Boeing plane complete with its “Clipper Malay” name – a couple of images appear below.


I lived for about 18 months with the Buyers family in Highgate, London, in the early sixties, as a paying guest – I was then a student. I rented a single room and was provided my meals and was, for all intents and purposes, part of the family. Another paying guest was Sethi, an Egyptian doctor, in his thirties, who was doing some sort of specialization. The parents, Jimmy and Drucie were an unusual English couple. For one thing, they were both communists and, not surprisingly, they were atheists. Drucie, interestingly, had a sister who was married to a well known physician who were both very conservative and the polar opposite of Drucie. Jimmy had been a first violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and had played with some famous conductors in his time with the orchestra. They were very good to me and we had numerous discussions on politics and other issues of the day – they treated me like a son. Even after I moved on, I would keep in touch with them and visit them from time to time.

One of the striking things – at least striking to me at that time – was that Franciska and her brothers Anton and Gordon, called their father by his first name, Jimmy. Later, in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, we of course have Atticus Finch addressed by his first name by his daughter Scout. I recall asking Franciska how it ever came about that she called her father by his first name and she told me that it was her father who wanted it that way.

Franciska and I were about the same age and so we hit it off pretty much right away. We tended to hang out – saw several movies together including West Side Story and Lawrence of Arabia. She applied to become an air stewardess with Pan Am based in New York in 1967. She was surprised and excited when she was offered the job – this was in an era when being an air stewardess was associated with a certain element of glamor since traveling internationally was not something that many people did. Thereafter, I would see her from time to time when she visited London on her various travels around the world. She told me of her involvement with a guy from Florida whose first name was Kit and later around the time she was killed, she was involved with some guy in New York in what seemed a serious relationship.

I was in India when the plane crash occurred and I heard about it upon my return when someone who knew of my friendship with Franciska called me to let me know what had happened. I was shocked and in a state of disbelief. I went to see her parents to offer my condolences. They were remarkably composed and seem more bothered by how it was affecting me than anything else. They told me that it was a suspected case of sabotage and that Franciska’s body had been recovered but they told Pan Am that they did not want to see the body and asked that they not be part of any funeral or burial. They did not even know where she was buried – and had no wish to know. It may sound callous but it really was not – they told me they wanted to remember her the way they knew her when she was alive and given that they did not have any religious beliefs, the burial and any related related service of worship was of no importance.

The cause of the crash was never established – the crash occurred at a time when “black boxes” in planes were not in use. The rumor of sabotage as its cause seems to have been superseded by suggestions of pilot error.

I would assume that her parents have passed on since they would be over a hundred years old today. I have no idea where her brothers are today. Gordon, the older brother was in the British army when I knew Francsika and Anton was at Cambridge University.

The unusual spelling of Franciska’s name was because her mother wanted it that way – she gave me some reason for it but I don’t recall what she said.

This entry is a cyber-memorial of sorts to Franciska – if anyone does a search for her name, they are likely to reach this website.

This post has been updated here. It includes an image of Franciska and her friend, Katherine Kane, who was also a flight attendant with Pan Am.

ADDENDUM: A New York Times article listing all the passengers and crew on this flight was recently provided to me by Jill Breitbarth.

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63 Responses to “Pan Am Flight 217, ‘Clipper Malay’ – Franciska Buyers remembered”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Rest in peace, beloved father and the other 50 souls who met the Creator that 12th of December of 1968…

  2. Brian says:

    47 Years today.

  3. Kit Baker says:

    I was the Kit in your narrative. A sad day indeed.

  4. Robert Carlin says:

    I flew with one of the Pilots on board Pan Am Flight 217. His name was Dick Titus and he was a Lt. In the USNR flying Lockheed P2V Neptunes out of Floyd Bennett Field (NAS NY) during the mid 1960’s. A really nice guy.. RIP

  5. Brian says:

    48 Years today.

    Thanks Rana for keeping this page open, it’s somewhere to go on this day.

  6. Jill says:

    I echo Brian’s sentiments. Thank you, Rana, for providing such a special place for those of us who remember and miss and still love the people on board flight 217.

  7. John caplan says:

    Heidi the purser on board 217 still miss her and think about her every day.RIP my love

  8. ROXANNE LOGET says:

    i would like to post a photo of Marianne Ambrey here; is that possible? I found a memorial to her which tells of the night before she boarded 217. She had a wonderful evening in NYC with a BF & Toronto boyfriend Bob. i will forever remember the first time we met In August 1967 or 68. I had JUST moved in…or maybe SHE had just moved in… to a shared room in The Lodge, a Victorian mansion turned into a boarding house at the corner of Sutter & Lombard in San Francisco (still there). It was a Sunday night, about 10 p.m. when all of a sudden, a whirlwind of fun blew into the room, flopped down on MY bed & declared: “Ohhhhhhhh. I had the most diVINE weekend. i fell in love….THREE times!” and we were instant BFs. We were both 22 and blazed a trail through The City’s nightlife like 2 comets joined at the hip. She was stunningly beautiful and SO friendly & SO much fun to be with…the very personification of joie de vie. Her dream job was to be a Pan Am Stew, as we used to say back in the day. She claimed to know just a bit of French (even though she grew up in Ottawa) and hope, hope, hoped that it would be enough for her to pass Pan Am’s test. Yes, she was all atwitter, positively jiggling with excitement & nervous anticipation and, yes, of course, she passed. Then, all of a sudden, she received her “orders” to report to Miami for Stew School and she was madly packing her bags. Her last night with us. I was helping her cram the last bag full & zip it up when … OH NO … the zipper BROKE. Of course! WHAT was she going to do? No problem…here, use one of mine. So we transferred all her clothes into my ratty old suitcase and WOOOOSH she was gone. We received 2 postcards from her. One said that she was now wearing THREE layers of makeup, one of which was green (!) and that on a face which never needed more than a bit of mascara and lipstick. And the other postcard said that she was SO excited… she was going on her first training flight after which she would “get her wings” and it was to CARACAS!!!! On Friday, the 13th of December, 1968, i got a call at work from a friend who said, “Are you sitting down?” And my life was never ever again full of joie de vie. I was stunned into a deep mourning and bottomless depression. Somebody arranged a memorial service at SF’s iconic Grace Cathedral and that helped somewhat. All the young men & young women at The Lodge were stunned. Many would gravely, silently approach me & hand me a few dollars to send to her family, which i did; it was a very small amount, maybe $35 or $55 if i remember accurately. 2 or 3 months later, my empty battered, blue suitcase arrived via Postman from Pan Am, Miami, without any note or explanation or anything… just an empty suitcase. That was a particularly awful moment. A year later, i met a Pan Am pilot at a New Year’s Eve party in Lake Tahoe & he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me anything except that no one knows exactly what happened, that there were few bodies recovered because of the shark infested waters & the bodies that were found were of people who were still stapped into their seats. And now, today, marks 48 years since that dreadul moment and i still have questions. What time, exactly, did it happen? Does anyone know? I’m sure it was sabotage and i still want to know why. Who needed to do that? Was it an act of suicide or political assassination? Actually, i have never really gotten over it and i’m 70 years old, now and nearly every day when i look out at the Pacific Ocean from my hillside home–sometimes mentally & sometimes out loud– i say “Hi, Marianne. I miss you.”

  9. TJ says:

    Brian & Jill, I am glad that this blog is a refuge of sorts on each anniversary. I plan on keeping it open as long as I am around!

    It is amazing to think that 48 years have passed since this tragedy.

  10. TJ says:

    Roxanne, I emailed you separately.

    Thanks for the detailed and moving account about Marianne. I will be pleased to include a picture of her if you email it to me.

  11. TJ says:

    Roxanne’s comment about wanting to include a picture of her friend Marianne makes me wonder if there are others who lost loved ones who would like to have a picture included.

    If there is sufficient interest and responses, I will be happy to dedicate a page specifically for such pictures and, perhaps, a few words of introduction to the person being remembered.

  12. Ricardo Zambrano says:

    Curra Rafael, whose full name was Dr. Rafael Antonio Curra, was a Venezuelan scientist born in Ciudad Bolivar in 1934, a normalist teacher, and professor of biology and chemistry with honors at the Pedagogical Institute of Caracas. His research interests lead him to optain a master’s degree in Marine Zoology at UCLA and a PhD in Marine Morphology at the University of Edinburgh. He was a founding professor of the University of Oriente in Venezuela (UDO) and one of the pioneers in oceanographic studies in Venezuela. The library of the Oceanographic Institute of Venezuela – of which he was director at the time of his death – bears his name.

    Those who knew him in life attest to his great sensitivity and extraordinary human quality, as well as his great professional and intellectual capacity even at an very early age.

    In the link below, you may see a a Rafael’s Photo taken a few month before his dead. He was 34 years old

    https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t31.0-8/s960x960/333064_10200243027817923_6577829_o.jpg?oh=530792b5d0f737e3d9e9d5cd45a173e1&oe=58EA01CD

  13. ROXANNE LOGET says:

    TJ. thank you for this page. it’s been a great interest to read all the comments and learn details about many of the people who were aboard 217 and it has helped me, personally, greatly.

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