Peter Goutiere probably shouldn’t have made it to age 108. Very few people grow that old, and far fewer are as spry and sharp as Goutiere was, right up until the end.
But Goutiere, who died in January and was buried earlier this month, wasn’t just any person. There’s no one in the world who had a story like his — born in India, raised in Brewer and learned to fly a plane at what is now Bangor International Airport.
Once Goutiere got into a cockpit for the first time in 1939, he never truly left, either in reality or in his mind.
“He took the controls of a plane and flew it for a while when he turned 100. He was a pilot right up until the end,” said Ray Gibouleau, an Old Town resident and longtime area pilot who with his wife, Mary, became close friends with Goutiere in his later years. “He just always had that kind of spirit.”
It’s all the more remarkable, given that between 1942 and 1945 during World War II, Goutiere undertook hundreds of flights through one of the most dangerous routes of all time — over the eastern Himalayas, between Assam, India, and the city of Kunming, China, flying supplies to support the allied Chinese war effort.
It was a route that pilots of the day called “The Hump” — an area with no radio signal, few charts, unpredictable and usually terrible weather, the constant threat of an attack from Japanese forces, and over the tallest mountains in the world. And they had to do it at night, to lessen the chance of being seen by the enemy.
Goutiere flew the Hump a total of 680 times as a civilian pilot for Pan-American Airways under contract to the Chinese National Aviation Corp. He survived dire weather conditions and enemy fire in the pitch-black and the unpressurized cabin of a DC-3 plane. Pilots and crew members both military and civilian, numbering 1.659, were lost during the three years the route was used during the war. Goutiere, amazingly, was not one of them.
“It’s amazing he survived that, let alone made it to 108,” said Mary Gibouleau. “But he lived a very focused life. He took care of himself. Except at 4 p.m., every day, when he would have ginger beer and gin, and smoke a cigar. He also knew how to have fun.”
Goutiere was born in 1914 in Uttar Pradesh, India, the son of a British government employee and the youngest of five children. When his father died in 1928, he and his remaining family in India moved to Maine to live with his oldest sister, Christine, who had married a man from Bangor. The family eventually settled in Brewer. Goutiere recalled in a 2014 BDN article that children used to tease him for wearing shorts, a style of dress he was accustomed to in blazing-hot India.
Goutiere didn’t finish high school as a teenager, and between 1932 and 1937 bounced around the east coast working odd jobs before returning to Bangor. He took a job at the Bangor House hotel for room and board and finally got around to finishing his degree at Brewer High School in 1939, at age 24. He married his high school English teacher a few months later — his first of four marriages. He also had three children; Christian, Hannah and David.
That same year, Goutiere first learned how to fly at Godfrey Field, the precursor to Dow Air Force Base and later Bangor International Airport. He fell in love with all aspects of aviation, and got his private license in 1940 and commercial license in 1941. Giboleau said his friend often reminisced about the eagle’s view of the Bangor region he would get while flying.
“The Bon-Ton Ferry, the train station, the trolleys, that kind of hustle and bustle — all of that is gone now,” Ray Gibouleau said. “He loved his hometown, but he said it did seem much more silent now.”
When the U.S. entered World War II, Goutiere rushed to enlist — but at age 27, he was eight months too old to join the U.S. Air Force, despite his credentials as a pilot. Luckily, another option was available because Pan-Am was looking for commercial pilots to fly newly-assembled Curtiss P-40 Warhawks from Ghana to Egypt. Within a few months, Goutiere was on his way to Africa, an assignment that didn’t last long until he was reassigned to India.
After his years as a civilian pilot helping out in the war effort, Goutiere began a long career in aviation, with most of his career spent working for Pan-Am and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Aside from flying, one thing Goutiere was particularly good at, Gibouleau said, was telling a story. And boy, did he have a lot of stories.
He was a personal pilot for both Chiang Kai-shek. He assisted Indian princes on big game hunting trips — a skill he picked up from his friend Shep Hurd, who ran Dakin Sporting Goods in Bangor. He flew pilgrims on the Hajj to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the way to Mecca and Medina.
He fell in love with the city of Beirut before it was devastated by the Lebanese Civil War. He flew for Pan-Am across western and central Africa. He was briefly a suspect in an assassination attempt on Moammar Gadhafi. He charmed countless beautiful women across the globe. And that’s just some of the stories.
Eventually, Goutiere rose to become a top-level inspector for the FAA, certifying pilots and airports for safety. By the time he retired in 1990 at age 76, he was among the most respected aviation experts in his field.
After retirement, Goutiere spent four years writing a memoir, “Himalayan Rogue: A Pilot’s Odyssey,” published in 1995 and titled after his nickname during his years flying the Hump. He lived in Florida and later in Westchester County, New York, but returned to Maine most summers to visit, often giving talks to aviation enthusiasts about his illustrious career.
In 2014, at age 100, Goutiere traveled to Washington state and flew in a restored DC-3 — the plane he flew 680 times over the Himalayas — from Seattle to San Francisco. He piloted the plane for part of the journey, making him one of the oldest people to ever fly a plane.
He only truly began to slow down last year, around the time he turned 108. Among his final wishes, Gibouleau said, was that he wanted to be buried next to his sister, Christine, at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. She was the woman who brought him to Maine in the first place, and she was a remarkable person in her own right, as an acclaimed novelist in the 1940s and 1950s.
Goutiere died on Jan. 22. Last week, he was interred at Mount Hope. His headstone identifies him as the “Legendary Himalayan Rogue” — a title well-earned.