Flight To Freedom: A Pan Am Director Of Operations’ Gamble To Save Lives In Vietnam

Allan H. Topping


Al Topping joined Pan Am Airlines in 1969, and by November 1972, he was the Director of Operations for Vietnam and Cambodia, living in Saigon with his wife. In April 1975, Al had 62 employees working for him, one American and the rest Vietnamese. As the North Vietnamese continued to push south, Pan Am Airlines committed to their employees to evacuate them and their immediate families. Watching the last World Airways passenger plane from Da Nang land in Saigon was a shock. The plane was full of bullet holes, and blood was dripping from the wheel wells where Vietnamese who tried escape were crushed to death as the landing gear were retracted. Early in April, Topping facilitated the departure of two Pan Am 747s (Operation Babylift) with over 600 children aboard. Pan Am’s final flight out of Vietnam was scheduled for Thursday, April 24, 1975, a normal flight departure day, so as not to arouse any suspicion of it being the last flight. There was not enough time to secure visas and passports for his employees and their families to get out of the country. However, the children who escaped on Operation Babylift were granted waivers for adoption paperwork, and Al seized the opportunity. He arranged to “adopt” 311 of his employees and their families to get them out of the country. Pan Am’s last 747 to depart Vietnam flew with 463 souls on a plane designed to hold 375. As the days of April 1975 dwindled in Saigon, Al Topping told his concerned employees, “Just have faith, we’ll figure something out,” and he did.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Leadership Courage Civilians Vietnamese
interviewer David Siry
date 24 April 2022


name Allan H. Topping
unit Pan American World Airways - Vietnam and Cambodia Office, Saigon
specialty Pan Am Vietnam Evacuation; Operation Babylift
service dates 1969 1991