Air Jamaica pilot dies days after final flight

Captain Russell Capleton, who led the Jamaican Airline Pilots’ Association’s (JALPA) unsuccessful bid to purchase Air Jamaica, died early yesterday morning at Andrews Memorial Hospital in St Andrew.

Captain John Williams, who succeeded Capleton as JALPA president, told The Gleaner yesterday it was believed Capleton died after suffering a heart attack. He was 56 years old.

Capleton was not among the 77 Air Jamaica pilots retained by Caribbean Airlines when that Trinidadian company assumed control of the struggling airline on May 1.

His final assignment for Air Jamaica was last Saturday on the Philadelphia to Kingston flight.

Williams said he and Capleton had been friends for more than 30 years. He said Capleton was not disappointed at being overlooked by Caribbean Airlines.

“He actually felt relief that he was finally moving on. He was looking forward to starting an independent airline. That was his ultimate dream,” Williams said.

Capleton was the high-profile spokesperson for the JALPA, which announced its bid to purchase Air Jamaica last October. The pitch evoked passionate nationalism but was rejected by the Government, which said the JALPA had made its bid too late and did not have an adequate acquisition plan.

In February, Capleton said his organisation had attracted the support of major overseas investors who were prepared to put up US$60 million equity to purchase Air Jamaica.

Capleton was born in Falmouth, Trelawny. He attended Jamaica College and New York University, where he majored in advertising and commercial arts.

He was an advertising executive with McCann/ Erickson for several years before becoming a licensed pilot in 1979. In January 1980, Capleton made his maiden flight for Air Jamaica.

He is survived by his wife and three children.

Since his passing, a number of persons and organisations have come out to voice condolences.

The ground staff at the Montego Bay Airport noted in a release that Capleton cared about what would happen to them there, and that he would be missed.

President of Air Jamaica, Bruce Nobles, and his chairman, Dennis Lalor, also expressing regret over Capleton’s passing issued a joint statement.

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