George Atiyeh

George in better days…

I’ve met all kinds of colorful characters while sailing Cat2Fold up and down the west coast of Mexico these past three winters, but nobody has left an impression on me like meeting George Atiyeh and his beautiful wife Hillary. I first met them as part of a group of strangers that came out for a day sail aboard Cat2Fold in and around Bahia Tenacatita. George and Hillary were hanging out in La Manzanilla taking an intensive multi-week spanish language class before continuing south into Central America. They were traveling with backpacks and taking buses to get to their next destination.
At the end of our sail, I rowed everyone except for George and Hillary to shore while they stayed on board so we could continue to party well into the evening. We shared many stories and became very good friends. I started hanging out with them in their apartment. I had dinner with them. I took them sailing again. We even went over to the main anchorage one afternoon and George and Hillary came with me in the dinghy to a very memorable “Mayor’s Raft-up”.
George was a backwoods airplane pilot. To hear him tell of how he got his start in that field is nothing short of inspirational. Many years ago, with a different wife at his side, George decided he was going to build himself an airplane. He had never flown before. His wife proclaimed him crazy! “Why don’t you learn how to fly and get your license first, then build a plane”, she said. His rational was that he could do both at the same time so that when the plane was ready, he would be ready. George’s career was up and running. He became licensed to fly over the border to Canada. He would fly high paying clients to go fishing up in British Colombia, spending the day fishing with “friends” and getting paid handsomely to boot. He felt like it was too good to be true. Getting paid to fly and fish.
Later in life, George would work for insurance companies recovering crashed airplanes from foreign countries. Sometimes he would just have to find where the plane slid off some gravel runway in Baja, pull out some chewing gum, duct tape and his best Mcgyver impersonation, and limp the stricken aircraft over the border, back to the U.S. Sometimes, he had to steal the aircraft from where it had been impounded by local officials. His stories continued as I sat and listened like a starry eyed child.
George lived life with a passion, and his glowing presence was proof of his self fulfillment. George was also a VERY active environmentalist. Using his plane as a tool to fly influential government officials over terrible examples of clear cutting, he was able to save an ancient part of Oregon forest known as Opal Creek.
Unfortunately, nearly two weeks ago, on July 2, 2014, George crashed his single engine plane in Missouri shortly after take off. He has been in a coma, and I believe he is still in critical condition with many broken bones. So if you have a moment to send out some positive energy, for this awesome man, please do. I know I have been thinking about him since I heard the news…
Hang in there George! I for one, would very much like to spend some more time with you here on this beautiful planet…