25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

San Pedro's First Pilot


T
here was a time when it was believed that only non-San Pedranos could do difficult, important and challenging tasks. San Pedranos could only do one thing- fishing. Therefore, a doctor, a school principal, a police officer, a nurse, a pilot, etc., could only be a non-San Pedrano.Times have changed, you agree, and as we reflect 25 years ago, one of the first barriers broken was that of piloting. My story of San Pedro's first pilot will amaze you.

I only wish I could say it is Johnny Greif III because we all accept him as a San Pedrano having been raised in San Pedro and very much involved in the development of the island. He might have been considered San Pedro's first local pilot, but Johnny was born in the U.S.A. So for our record, our first San Pedrano pilot is Nando Trejo Jr., J.P. "Nandito" many people call him, except that now Nandito is his son. For some of his friends he is "Chupa" for he used to suck his thumb even in Standard Five as an eleven-year-old child.

Nando Trejo
Nando Trejo's early piloting years
For others he is "Block" for he and his dad used to manufacture concrete blocks using one mould for a living. Yet for some he used to be known as "Tronada" or thunder for he was terribly afraid of thunder and ran home crying if the thunder surprised him on the streets.

Enough on nicknames; now to Captain Nando. As a young man Nando did any practical job to save money for his dream of going to a pilot's school. He even had a dishwasher's job at the Holiday Hotel. Finally, his opportunity knocked at the door. He was dating a young and beautiful girl (sorry to say this Mrs. Trejo), and he was very well appreciated by the young lady's father, who offered to help put him into a school for pilots. Bob Witte, another friend of Nando's father, was himself a pilot and did much to help Nando get his pilot's license. Many people thought that he would not make it, but many of us who were his close friends knew that with his drive and personality, he would make it.

Finally, one day he returned to San Pedro with his license to fly. There was not even media coverage as there were no newspapers then or he would have been featured in Ambergris Today's "Breaking the Barriers". Nando first flew for Tropic Air and everyone thought he was a great pilot. One day a few friends and I discovered that indeed Nandito was a great pilot. We were flying to Belize City in not so good weather and around the Victoria House area, the wings of the Cessna clipped the branches of a palm tree. After the initial shock and hard shake, I looked out and saw that we were dragging along 2 palm branches on the right wing of the airplane. Nando was pale, but remained calm and in control. He did what was best- fly straight. He could have swung around and returned to San Pedro, but that could have cost us our lives, as the rudder was also damaged. He flew straight and landed at Caye Chapel. Today I realize that if the plane had been just 3 or 4 feet lower, we would not be around to tell you this story.

After that incident, Nando lost his first job, but I personally gained more respect for him. I felt I was born again. This happened one week before the grand inauguration of our new high school building. After the incident, Nando went on his own to open a new airline company for San Pedro- Island Air, which later merged with Maya Airways. No matter what, I have great respect for San Pedro's first pilot, and I'm sure Baldemar Graniel, Wil Nuņez, and Pete Salazar Sr., who were also in the plane with me respect him as much. I say three cheers for Nando and "keep flying high."


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