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Dean Martin Jr. on Missing F-4 : Singer's Son Was Flying Jet That Is Feared Down

March 23, 1987|Associated Press

MARCH AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Dean Paul Martin, son of entertainer Dean Martin who carved out his own identity as an actor, was the pilot of a fighter jet believed to have crashed on a snowy mountain, officials said today.

Martin, 35, a captain in the California Air National Guard, was at the helm of an F-4C when it disappeared from radar Saturday near rugged top of 11,500-foot Mount San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino National Forest, 70 miles east of Los Angeles, said Air National Guard Maj. Steve Mensik.

Martin's 12-year-old son, Alex, whose mother is actress Olivia Hussey, had watched his father take off 10 minutes earlier Saturday, Mensik said.

Mensik said Martin had spent more than 400 hours piloting F-4s. He had joined the Air National Guard in 1980 and graduated from pilot training in November, 1981.

Expert Pilot

"Captain Martin was one of the better pilots, an exceptional athlete who handled himself exceptionally well in the cockpit," Mensik said.

The second officer aboard the plane was identified as Capt. Ramon Ortiz, 39.

Dean Martin's publicist, Warren Cowan said he was "sure the family is devastated."

The younger Martin, who first flew aircraft as a teen-ager, was among a small fraternity of Hollywood fliers that included John Travolta, Wallace Beery, Jimmy Stewart and Wayne Morris.

Martin, a rock star as a teen-ager and a former pro tennis player, was married and divorced from Olympic gold medalist skater Dorothy Hamill, and Hussey.

Although he grew up in the shadow of his famous father and enjoyed all the financial trappings of a Hollywood kid, Martin, who once used his nickname, Dino, pursued many diverse hobbies that helped develop an identity apart from his father's.

The eldest of Dean Martin's three children by a former wife, Jeanne, at age 14 formed a rock band with Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and neighbor Billy Hinsche. The group, called Dino, Desi and Billy, had a hit single, "I'm a Fool."

Most recently, he starred in NBC's "Misfits of Science" during the 1985-86 television season and had a development deal with ABC. He also starred with actress Ali MacGraw in the 1979 theatrical release, "Players."

Reputation as Playboy

He also developed a reputation as a Hollywood playboy, dating Candace Bergen, Tina Sinatra and others while flying Lear jets and driving race cars.

Air National Guard Maj. Steve Mensik said Martin's jet was in the company of two other planes and was flying in heavy clouds at about 11,300 feet under control of civilian air traffic controllers at Ontario International Airport.

"Ontario control essentially told them to make a left turn," to avoid the mountain, Mensik said. The other two jets acknowledged the order and turned, but no response was heard from Martin's plane.

Mt. San Gorgonio was where a leased Lear Jet taking Frank Sinatra's 82-year-old mother, Natalie (Dolly) Sinatra, crashed on Jan. 7, 1977, in a blinding snowstorm at 10,000 feet, 200 feet below a ridge. She was traveling from her Palm Springs home to see her son perform in Las Vegas.

Military and civilian aircraft have scoured the steep, snow-covered slopes of Mt. San Gorgonio for the jet, but the search was hampered by snow depths up to eight feet on the mountain. There was six feet of snow on the ground when the aircraft disappeared, and another two feet fell that night, he said.

Martin and a passenger were on a weekend training flight with his unit, the Air National Guard's 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, based at March Air Force Base in Riverside.

The jet took off about 1:45 p.m. en route to bombing practice in the desert to the northeast, and disappeared from radar screens 10 minutes later, a March official said.

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