Pet Jet, Woz crash and death of IBM’s Estridge #history


Excerpt from The PC Pioneers

On this day in 1985 Don Estridge died in Delta flight 191 – he had led the development of the IBM PC

Jet setting – three of the early PC makers made heaps of money and quite naturally they used some of this to acquire the ultimate ‘boys’ toys’.  These proved not to be without their hazards.

Commodore, with bases around the world, soon purchased what they called the ‘PET Jet’, a seven-seat private aircraft.   In September 1980 a fire broke out midflight; it was ablaze for forty-five minutes before the plane could land.  Jack Tramiel, VP Dick Sanford and other senior executives were aboard and fortunately they were merely shaken but unharmed.


Steve Wozniak of Apple crashed while flying his Beechcraft in February 1981.  The aircraft has some provenance.  A version of it was involved in the incident that killed Buddy Holly, Ricky Valens and the Big Bopper in 1959.  In 1964 Jim Reeves perished in a Beechcraft too, and twenty years later Randy Rhoads, a guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne, died in a Beechcraft crash.  In 1984 Robert Moriarty buzzed through the legs of the Eiffel Tower in one without mishap.  Having said all of the above, some 17,000 have been built and flown uneventfully for a considerable number of hours.

Wozniak crashed his Beechcraft during take-off and was adjudged by the authorities not to have been fully qualified.  It was suggested that his unfamiliarity with the aircraft, led to him stalling it and hitting a perimeter berm.

He survived physically unharmed but subsequently suffered amnesia and was forgetful about many things in his life.  Once he was back to normal he took the opportunity to walk away from Apple and returned to fulltime education and completed a degree course.

IBM_PC_5150But even when they did not fly their own private aircraft these high-distance PC travellers were still at risk.

Don Estridge, who led the IBM PC launch team, was rewarded with a series of promotions which in typical IBM-style moved him away from the team that he had built.  In 1983 he was approached by Steve Jobs to become president of Apple.  He was offered a sign-on of $1m, $1m a year and $2m to buy a house.  Estridge rejected this proposal.  Apple lured John Sculley from Pepsi Cola instead.

By 1984 Estridge was a VP of Manufacturing at IBM.  Sadly in August 1985 he and his wife died when the Delta flight 191 crashed at Dallas-Fort Worth, he was just forty-eight and left three young daughters.  By that time the division he did so much to shape had sold over a million IBM PCs.

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