By Matt Nippert
Pilot Ken Mulgrew has flown the Queen to New Zealand - but for career highlights, it's hard to look past Kiwi royalty. Photo / Herald file
Lorraine Downes returned home, triumphant, on August 1, 1983, and Air New Zealand pilot Ken Mulgrew was more interested in looking at the newly crowned 19-year-old Miss Universe than at the camera.
Mulgrew initially can't recall his gaze being distracted, but adds: "I'm not surprised. At that time of the morning, I think it was 6am, and she still looked like a million dollars. What a lovely lady."
Downes had won her title in St Louis a month earlier and Mulgrew was the captain that flew the Boeing 747 and the beauty queen from Honolulu to a waiting gaggle of well-wishers and press in Auckland.
However, the flight wasn't quite the well-oiled publicity machine it was set up to be after Mulgrew says he "took exception" to being telexed a script to follow for when Merv Smith from 1ZB called in, live-to-air, to check on his celebrity cargo.
"Merv called up and asked if I knew I had a special guest on board. I said, 'I know'.
"We've got the Punahou High School Choir, who will be singing in Wellington, Auckland and Hamilton."
Only later in the interview did Mulgrew let it slip that he knew the winner of the 32nd Miss Universe pageant was aboard.
After landing, Mulgrew says he was given a gentle chiding by his boss for not following his lines.
Downes stayed in the country for only three days before jetting back to New York and what she now calls her Miss Universe "tour of duty".
Mulgrew stayed with Air New Zealand until nine years ago when he turned 60 and was forced to retire.
He is now general manger of Boeing Training & Flight Services campus in Shanghai.