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Sigurdur Helgason

Former chairman of Icelandair

February 24, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sigurdur Helgason, 87, the Icelandic airline executive who pioneered cheap flights that carried legions of backpackers between Europe and the United States in the 1960s and '70s, died Feb. 8 on Mustique, a tiny private island in the Caribbean, an Icelandair spokesman said. No cause of death was given.

Helgason, who reportedly spent winters on Mustique after retiring, was chief executive of Icelandair from 1974 to 1984 and then chairman of the board until 1991.

He was running Icelandic Airlines' U.S. operation in New York when it gained a big following among 20-somethings for its cheap flights to Luxembourg via Iceland, said the spokesman, Gudjon Arngrimsson.

Icelandic merged with another airline in 1973 to become Icelandair, the country's flagship carrier.

"This idea of using Iceland as a hub between Europe and the U.S. . . . That was the big break. In the '60s this really took off," Arngrimsson said.

Helgason was born July 20, 1921, in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. He earned a business degree from Columbia University in New York in 1947.

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