Norman Baker — Adventurer & Navigator Dies in Plane Crash at 89

As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, Norman Baker dreamed of adventure.  And he didn’t just dream. At the age of 13, he won a contest where the first prize was flying lessons. He became an avid pilot and at the age of 89, died as he lived, in the crash of his 1966 four-seat single-engine Cessna on November 22nd. Captain Baker was flying to join his extended family for Thanksgiving when his plane crashed in a wooded area on Nov. 22, near Pittsford in central Vermont. His body was found in the wreckage. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

Although trained as an engineer, Norman Baker is best remembered as an adventurer. He mined for gold in Alaska, climbed the Matterhorn and lived on a 19th-century schooner that he and his wife had rebuilt.

In 1969 and 1970, he served as the navigator and radio officer on Thor Heyerdahl’s two Ra expeditions. Heyerdahl attempted to demonstrate that boats built from papyrus reeds were seaworthy enough to have allowed early explorers to sail from Africa to South America by drifting and sailing on the Canary Current to the Western Hemisphere as long as 5,000 years ago. The first attempt, on 40′ sail propelled papyrus boat named Ra, was a failure. On Ra II, they succeeded in sailing in 57 days from Morocco to Barbados in 1970. 

Norman Baker also later sailed with Heyerdahl in 1978, on another reed boat, the Tigris.  They sailed through the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea to validate their theory that there had been migration and trade links between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, now the site of Pakistan and Western India.

He was a fellow and director of the Explorers Club and served as an advisor to Fara Heim, an expedition searching for signs of Viking settlements in North America.  


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3 Responses to Norman Baker — Adventurer & Navigator Dies in Plane Crash at 89

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Sorry to hear of Norman’s passing. I was the guy who arranged for and acted as radio operator on the rescue boat in 1969 and the United Nations boat that accompanied RA II in 1970. I have many photo, interviews, film and artifacts that I want to present to a marine museum.

  2. Peter Wright says:

    I was given the book “Kon-Tiki” as a Sunday School Prize, the story of Thor Hyerdahl’s 1947 expedition to prove that South Americans could have settled in Polynesia. It inspired me and was a large part of my calling to a life at sea. Norman Baker took that inspiration many steps farther. What a guy.

  3. Peter Wrights comment triggered my memory and looking in my bookcase I found a first English edition of “Kon-Tiki” translated from Norwegian in 1948. I received it for my 12th. birthday at Christmas 1948. Some five years later I joined my first deep sea ship and made several crossings from South America across the Pacific over the next 50 years – never in a raft though !! I remember the book started me studying ocean currents and their importance to ocean travel.

    Good Watch

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