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Family, friends celebrate pilot’s rich career, including role in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

Probably the last time you saw Fred Sorenson, he was airlifting Indiana Jones out of a Peruvian jungle after fleeing from Hovito natives with blowguns, bows and arrows.

That was in the 1981 adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and Sorenson had a small role as Jock, the pilot who flew the college professor-turned-adventurer in a small seaplane to the jungle to unearth an archaeological treasure before it could be found by a French rival.

The single-engine biplane that flew into the sunset amid a flurry of arrows and darts was one 120 different types of aircraft that Sorenson, a Las Vegas resident, has flown in his career.

On Wednesday, Sorenson headed into a different kind of sunset.

He was captain of Southwest Airlines Flight 4246 from Burbank, Calif., that arrived at McCarran International Airport right on time at 12:30 p.m.

It was Sorenson’s last flight as a Southwest captain, because next week he turns 65, the age of mandatory pilot retirement set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Before the flight with 86 passengers aboard arrived at McCarran’s Gate C21, it passed through a commemorative water arch provided by the airport’s Fire Department. Once the Boeing 737 was parked at the gate, Steve Dubron, an assistant chief pilot for Southwest’s Las Vegas base, climbed a ladder and passed a bottle of Champagne to Sorenson though the cockpit window, a tradition for retiring airmen.


After that, the party began.

Family members, friends and fellow pilots gathered at Southwest’s crew base to offer Sorenson congratulations, swap stories and celebrate a career that began when Sorenson learned to fly at age 16.

Sorenson was born in the Panama Canal Zone with aviation fuel in his blood.

His father was assigned to flying Navy anti-submarine patrols in the Canal Zone at the time, and Sorenson’s life was influenced with frequent travel to remote locations as he was growing up.

Sorenson was hired by Hawaiian Airlines at 22 and flew for the airline until he “retired” after 20 years in December 1992. He launched his second career with Southwest that year and was promoted to captain two years later.

It was when he was in Hawaii that he met “Raiders” producers Frank Marshall and Howard Kazanjian and director Steven Spielberg. Sorenson was hired to fly the movie makers around to scout locations for the film. One day, they asked him if he wanted the role of Jock, the character who helped movie-goers learn how much Indiana Jones hates snakes.

When Jones, portrayed by Harrison Ford, got into the biplane, he was confronted by a python that Jock introduced as “my pet snake, Reggie.”

The snake on the plane involved a little Hollywood trickery because snakes aren’t permitted in Hawaii.


“Raiders of the Lost Ark” wasn’t Sorenson’s only brush with Hollywood. In 1992, he flew into Kauai after Hurricane Eniki to pick up the film crew of “Jurassic Park,” which had been stranded by the storm.

It was also in Hawaii that Sorenson opened Flight Contract Services, an aircraft delivery business he runs in his spare time. That’s how he has gotten to fly so many aircraft types. He restores and delivers planes worldwide, sometimes modifying them to carry additional fuel for long trips over oceans.

“This is really a bittersweet day for Fred and for all of us,” said Capt. Roy Martin, Southwest’s base flight manager in Las Vegas. “I can’t think of anyone who exemplifies the profession more than Fred, as he’s logged more than 42,000 hours of flight time.”

On display in the crew base was a satchel full of commendations for Sorenson from Southwest’s leadership over the years, each signed by legendary executives Herb Kelleher, Colleen Barrett and current President and CEO Gary Kelly.

Passengers and family members who flew that last Southwest trip with Sorenson at the controls described it as a high-altitude party with even more hilarity than the usual Southwest flight.

Observing a Hawaiian theme, each passenger received two floral leis — one for them to keep and one for them to place on Sorenson’s shoulders after the flight. When Sorenson got off the plane, he wore a cloak of flowers around his neck that was dozens of blossoms deep.

The crew served celebratory cupcakes instead of peanuts.


Sorenson’s daughters, mother and flight attendant girlfriend were among the passengers onboard. Also on the flight was a high school classmate, Pat Schader, a Chicago-based Southwest flight attendant who served on the crew and told passengers that she was Sorenson’s ex-wife.

“I think some of them actually believed me,” she said with a laugh. “They’ll be telling that story to their friends forever. Today was one of the highlights of my life because Fred is such a great guy and Southwest is such a great family.”

Sorenson’s 90ish mother was glowing throughout the tributes.

“This is all very emotional because Fred’s father was a lieutenant colonel in the Navy and would have been very proud of him today,” said Flora Sorenson, who lives in Las Vegas. “This is fantastic. I should have had three more pilots.”

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.

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