(Note, this story has been changed to correct Peter Goutiere’s age at death, which was 108, not 109.)
Peter Goutiere, a World War 2 Hump pilot, died on Sunday at the age of 108. His death leaves Moon Fun Chin, the last surviving member of the group of daredevil aviators who brought troops, food, fuel and other supplies into China after Japan severed China’s only land supply route. Goutiere flew for CNAC, a partnership between the Government of China and Pan American World Airways.
Before and during World War 2 flying over the Himalayans was a deadly serious business. The planes were unpressurized and heavily loaded. They barely topped the rugged peaks and in weather so hazardous, Capt. Chin told The New York Times in 1944, CNAC had the reputation of being the only airline in the world that flies only in bad weather.
“Everything wasn’t prescribed in some manual. They were there as aviation was being invented,” said Greg Crouch, the author of China’s Wings. Basically, Crouch told me of Goutiere and his fellow pilots, “It was cowboy flying.”
Even with the force multiplier of stress, Goutiere’s 680 edge-of-the-precipice flights over the Hump make up only a fraction of his long life. (For details, see the link at the end of this post.) After the war, he consorted with kings and maharajas, traveled the world, had adventures, joined the Federal Aviation Administration and survived civil wars. He married. Frequently.
In his autobiography, Himalayan Rogue, he writes about all of it. Readers beware, he does not use the term “Rogue” in the title lightly. In brazen detail he shares his first sexual experience at a shockingly young age and his infidelities long after he is old enough to know better. He is unabashed about much that he should be and embraces the colonial-class structure of the mid-20th Century.
Goutiere was born in 1913 and raised between Uttar Pradesh, India and rural Maine. His father was a British barrister and his mother was American. Even by 1920 standards, Goutiere was a self-reliant child. As an adult, his U.S. citizenship, war service and his association with government structures had him frequently in places where world-changing events were taking place. Tales of alcohol-infused parties are interspersed with the comically ordinary frustrations of an American bureaucrat.
I first met Pete in 2019 while writing a story for The New York Times. Every encounter with him was like taking a too-big gulp of carbonated water, refreshing but a little eye-watering too. He was an excellent storyteller, but some of those stories, well…what to say? Give a centenarian a break though, much changes in the world over a lifetime of that length.
Still, by any generation’s assessment, he was a courageous aviator, an excellent raconteur, an adventure-seeker, a rascal, a charmer and a hotshot.
He was many things, none of them boring. That he squeezed more than his allotment of living out of the years he was given, is certain.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.
Peter was our neighbor, just two “doors” away. I met him while walking on our road in 2015, and he amazed me that he, then only 100, seemed to be as spry as I could manage with my 20 years younger legs. Our walks continued providing occasions for short chats for another five years until Covid interrupted routine. In 2018 he and his wife, Evelyn, generously included me in his 104th birthday celebration with many of his buddies in attendance. Peter’s autobiography, “Himalayan Rogue” portrays a life of adventure and fullness that few others have experienced. Peter will be missed by many; I will miss seeing him on walks and having a chat. He was an exceptional man.
Pete was a sweet soul they don’t make them like him anymore. And he loved jellabies.