In this episode Barbara Sharfstein, 92, a veteran Pan Am flight attendant, joins us to talk about her flying career, tragedy over the Amazon, and a concert in the sky with Louis Armstrong.
Barbara joined Pan Am in 1951 and after 35 years of service with the airline as a flight attendant, purser, check purser, and 747 in-flight director, she was transferred to United Airlines in 1986 when the Pacific Division was sold. She then worked for United for another six years before retiring in 1992.
When first hired, Barbara traveled onboard several groundbreaking and innovative aircraft—the Convair CV-240, the Lockheed Constellation, the DC-4, and most memorably, the Boeing 377 “Stratocruiser.” Barbara flew to numerous international destinations and was based in many of Pan Am’s divisions throughout out her career, but she most fondly remembers working the fabled Round the World flights…Clipper 001 and 002.
Barbara will discuss Pan Am Flight 202, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named Clipper New Hope, that crashed in the Amazon Basin on April 29, 1952 killing her good friend and roommate, Pat Monaghan. All 50 people on board were killed, 41 passengers and 9 crew members, in what was the deadliest-ever accident involving the Boeing 377 Stratocrusier.
The accident happened shortly after departure from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, enroute to the first schedule stop in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The final destination of this flight was New York.
The investigation took place under exceptionally difficult conditions in the jungle, and the exact cause of the crash was never established. However, it was theorized based on an examination of the wreckage that the number two engine had separated in flight after propeller blade failure and debris likely penetrated the fuselage causing a catastrophic in-flight breakup.
Barbara's story is featured in the book tilted “Pan American World Airways: Aviation History Through the Words of Its People” by James Patrick Baldwin, Jeff Kriendler, and Leslie Giles.
During her aviation career flying around the world working for the airlines, Barbara also found great success in San Francisco real estate when she was not on duty in the air. Her crowning achievement was the development of a one-acre parcel of land in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco into a subdivision of twenty condos. Many say it has one of the best views of the city!
Today, Barbara volunteers at the San Francisco International Airport Aviation Museum. As a volunteer, she enjoys sharing her stories and lending her time ever since the international terminal was rebuilt in 2000.
Additionally, she served as the editor of the World Wings International San Francisco Chapter newsletter, having excelled in that position for the past twenty-five years.
Barbara resides in San Francisco.
Follow us on Facebook,