The Aviator’s Last Flight – Hana, Maui, Hawaii
Hana—Maui’s remote, heavenly town—boasts both astounding natural beauty and a fascinating history. It’s the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great’s most cherished wife, Queen Ka’ahumanu. It houses one of the wettest and most wondrous rainforests in the world. Its journey to its shores is an adventure of startling proportions, traversing 52 miles, 600 spellbinding turns, and passing nearly 60 waterfalls.
But one of Hana’s biggest claims to international fame?
It’s the final resting spot for one of the world’s most famous, complicated, and captivating aviators.
American aviator Charles Lindbergh’s accomplishments could fill an entire vault. The 19th person to complete a transatlantic flight, the U.S. Mail pilot and U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer received the Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest military decoration—when he flew solo from New York’s Roosevelt Island Field to Le Bourget Field in Paris on a single-seat, single-engine monoplane in 1927. Requiring 33 ½ hours and comprising 3,600 miles, the monumental accomplishment was nearly the twice the distance of any other aviator’s attempts at gliding over the treacherous Atlantic. Lindbergh also went to school to become a mechanical engineer (though he eventually dropped out), he spent almost an entire year barnstorming under the moniker “Daredevil Lindbergh,” he served as a 1st lieutenant, he studied biology with Nobel Prize-winning French surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel, he earned acclaim as the first pilot to fly at night, and he invented the “Model T” pump—a glass perfusion pump that’s credited with making heart surgeries possible.
Crime of the Century
But such a remarkable curricula vitae became nearly overshadowed when Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped from his crib in Lindbergh’s rural New Jersey home in 1932. Ten weeks of searching nationwide, coupled with ransom negotiations that culminated in a $50,000 cash payment, proved to be futile: the baby’s remains were found by chance in a roadside woodland near Mount Rose, New Jersey. The primary culprit was ultimately electrocuted at Trenton State Prison—and the “Crime of the Century,” as the abduction and murder were called, gave birth to making kidnapping a federal crime—but Lindbergh, understandably devastated, was never the same.
Shortly after the death penalty was exacted on the abductor of his son, Lindbergh and his family secretly fled America, where they went into self-imposed exile in England and Wales. It was there that Lindbergh sought to find a safe haven “away from the tremendous public hysteria” that surrounded him in his home country.
But it was in Hawaii that Lindbergh found his true—and final—home.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh joined United Aircraft as an engineering consultant before becoming a technical representative in the Pacific Theater. After the war, the “Lone Eagle” was introduced to Kipahulu by Pan Am executive and close friend Sam Pryor, who had settled on 100 acres in the region and frequently hosted visits from Lindbergh and his wife, Anne. To Lindbergh, Maui—as PBS reports—was paradise: “unspoiled by development and providing nearly uninterrupted privacy.”
Living in Hana, Maui, Hawaii
Lindbergh spent several of the last years of his life in Hana’s serenity and seclusion—a region that remains one of the least populated spots on the island. There, after purchasing 5 of Pryor’s acres in 1971, the prolific writer, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Commander of the Legion of Honor built a simple, lava-walled A-frame house. Meant to serve as his vacation home (he and his family lived in Darien, Connecticut), he and Anne began spending more and more time in Hana with each passing year, attending church every Sunday and being known around town as ordinary people.
Meanwhile, Lindbergh became actively involved in the preservation of Humpback whales and worked with local residents, Pryor, and humanitarian Laurance Rockefeller to extend Haleakala National Park to include Kipahulu Valley, in large part to protect the region’s native species. While intensely private about his family—which went on to include 5 children and 10 grandchildren—Lindbergh was vocal about his love of Hana, once writing that “there is nothing quite comparable when you think of the waterfalls, natural swimming pools, and the ocean beyond.” According to biographer Leonard Mosley—who penned Lindbergh: A Biography—Hana “was both a haven and nest” for Charles and Anne, a place “where they had never felt safer or closer to each other.”
Charles Lindbergh’s Last Days
When Lindbergh was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1974 and learned he had only a short time left to live, he took a clandestine flight from Columbia-Presbyterian in New York to Hana to live out the rest of his days, claiming “I love Maui so much…I would rather live one day in Maui than one month in New York.” (Consider it unsurprising for someone who wanted to “breathe the sweet flowery air of Hana.”) He passed away in Hana at the age of 72, surrounded by the Hawaiian beauty he so deeply cherished.
Charles Lindbergh’s Final Resting Place
Today, countless visitors to Maui—as well as locals—pay their respects to Lindbergh at Palapala Ho’omau Church in Kipahulu where he’s buried, a modest, beautiful church, built in 1857 by several of the first missionaries to the island, that overlooks the dramatic Kipahulu Plateau and is celebrated for venerating many of the heroes of the World Wars. Leis drape the modest slab that covers the eucalyptus-thatched coffin in which Lindbergh was buried (a local pickup served as his hearse); Anne rests in peace on the same grounds.
Underneath a java plum tree, his grave holds a final set of words to the world: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea…” Taken from Psalms 139:9, the epithet can be read as you wish, but we’re inclined to think that Lindbergh’s was encouraging what he had known since he was a young pilot in Michigan: anything is possible, just as long as you take the first leap. As for those uttermost parts? You’ll find them the moment you turn towards the ocean and stare out at the wide, blue sea.