Richard Henkel, 60

Palmetto Bay pilot Richard Henkel, who flew film crews, relief missions — and loose chickens — dies at 60

 

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Snakes on a plane?

Pilot Richard Henkel probably wouldn’t have been fazed. After all, he’d already hauled hundreds of chickens in a cargo plane over the Andes Mountains when they busted loose from their cages mid-flight. Feathers and fowl all over the place, even in the cockpit, as co-pilot and crew hustled the startled birds back into containment. Henkel calmly piloted the DC-7 over the rough terrain.

“We don’t know why he was transporting the chickens,” said sister Julie Henkel, as she and their mother, Joan Rindfuss Hansen, chuckle over the telephone line as they recall the story Henkel once shared with them. Were the birds en route to Colonel Sanders? Who knows.

Maybe to a movie set. After all, there was the time in 1979 when Henkel hauled the crew behind Universal Studio’s summer 1980 box-office turkey, The Island. The movie was based on Peter ( Jaws) Benchley’s beach-read, and Henkel was taking the team from its Miami location shoot to the Caribbean islands for filming of the climactic battle between the Coast Guard and a motley crew of pirates led by actor David Warner, who specialized in playing quirky villains.

The experience was just another day at the yoke for Henkel, who died at 60 of pancreatic and liver cancer on June 14. Henkel regaled friends and families with his tales of flying, something he took to not long after graduating from Palmetto High in 1970 and landing a job as a flight instructor at Burside-Ott at Tamiami Airport.

“There was never any doubt in his mind that soaring through the sky would become a lifetime career. He was affectionately nicknamed Big Bird by friends and pilots during his many years of flying to the Caribbean islands and Central and South America,” his sister said.

Henkel of Palmetto Bay was born in Chicago and moved with his family to Miami in 1962. His father, Loren Henkel, who died at 64 in 1987 of an aneurysm, was a commercial artist who worked at the Miami Herald in the early 1970s in the creative services department.

Henkel graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a bachelor’s in aviation administration in 1978. His first international flights were on the DC-6 and DC-7, carrying cargo for Rich International Airline out of Miami.

Among his missions: flying NCAA Big Ten teams to national championship games, humanitarian missions for disaster relief, and even a horse from Mexico to the Belmont Stakes in New York. “The horse was so tired by the time it came in, it came in close to last at the race, my mom said,” Julie Henkel remembered.

For more than three decades, Henkel flew for Miami-based airlines. American Eagle. Trans Air Link. Custom Air Support. IBC Airlines.

He served as the director of operations for Air Cargo Express and would add corporate jet flying to his portfolio when he flew for Avanti on the Piaggio aircraft out of Las Vegas. He served as chief pilot for Sierra West Airlines and was director of operations for ACI Pacific in Guam and captain and chief pilot for First Kuwait Oil. He made daily flights into Iraq while based in Kuwait during the war in 2003.

At the time, he operated international flights to Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and the Middle East before retiring from full-time flying to become a flight instructor contract pilot for Dean International Flight School at Tamiami.

But his sister Julie, a kindergarten teacher at Gateway Environmental K-8 in Homestead, also remembers a family man who loved cranking Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull on his Gibson guitar, and sharing his adventures.

“He took me up in the Cessna at Tamiami Airport and we did touch-and-gos. He also let me take the wheel for a brief moment to see what it feels like. One of the most exciting times and memorable of my life,” she said. “I always saw the personal side of Rick. I was fortunate to experience the professional side and he was a brilliant pilot. I was so overwhelmed with awe.”

In addition to his mother and sister, Henkel is survived by his stepfather Claude Hansen, nephews Jonathan and William McKinney and niece Jenna Palmer.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 29 at Christ Congregational Church, 14920 SW 67th Ave., Palmetto Bay.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

Read more Obituaries stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">WATERFALL:</span> Ben Bistrong designed coral rock waterfall landscapes in the Redland and around South Florida.

    Benjamin Bistrong, 44

    South Florida coral stone landscaper Benjamin Bistrong dies at 44

    Miami native Benjamin Bistrong, a descendant on his mother’s side to a pioneering group of home-builders who emigrated from the Bahamas to Key West in the 1830s, worked to bring South Florida into a modern Stone Age.

  •  
James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.

    Correction: Obit-James Garner story

    In a story July 20 about the death of TV legend James Garner, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the actor was "found dead." In fact, he died in the presence of family and others.

  • Manny Roth, founder of Café Wha?, dead at 94

    Manny Roth, a colorful club owner in Greenwich Village whose Cafe Wha? and its basement level stage was a rite of passage in the 1960s for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and many others, has died. He was 94.

Miami Herald

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category