Saturday, January 15, 2005 Starting at 3, he headed to the airport By Doug Grow The Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune He eventually found the airport, though the trip started off a little rugged. In 1948, Stevie Bowen, 3 years old, hopped his family's back-yard fence, jumped on his tricycle and started on a journey that he thought would take him to the Twin Cities airport, then known as Wold-Chamberlain Field. Two problems: The kid had failed to file a flight plan with his parents, Robert and Mary Jane. And he hadn't yet developed a good sense of direction. It was about 9 a.m. on a hot May day when Stevie took off. His mother had just put his baby brother down for a morning nap and sent Stevie to play in his sandbox in the back yard. Sweet, quiet time. "I was a pianist," she recalled in a phone conversation from her Arizona home a few days ago. "We had this big high fence. His tricycle was in the garage. I thought it would be a good chance to just sit down and play the piano for a few minutes." She played for maybe 25 or 30 minutes. Then she looked out the window of the family's home at 5026 Aldrich Av. S. in southwest Minneapolis. Her son was gone. "It was the worst feeling," she said. "I called my husband and police." Word spread throughout Minneapolis that a kid was missing. A sizable search involving cops, parents and kids quickly began. There were radio reports of the unfolding drama. As they searched, police stopped by Burroughs School, only a few blocks from the boy's home. Yes, some kindergarten kids said, Stevie had been by. He'd chatted for a while, mentioned going to the airport. He'd also dumped his trike near the school and Minnehaha Creek. "Police were looking in the creek," Mary Jane recalled of one of the most awful moments of a nightmare day. Seven long hours later, the wandering kid was found by an adult in Edina, several miles from home and the opposite way from the airport. The boy was turned over to police who delivered him home, slightly sunburned and very thirsty. He explained what his vision had been. He'd wanted to return to the airport, where his family had gone for an outing two days earlier. Clearly, the little boy had been excited by what he'd seen. In retrospect, his mother said, he'd warned his mother of his plans. "We'd gone to the airport on Sunday," she recalled. "He'd told me he wanted to go to the airport again. I'm sure I said something like, 'That's nice, dear; we'll do that sometime.' " The story of the child's journey was covered on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune, complete with photo of Stevie on his trike. "He always called it his 'big lost,' " his mother said of the boy's journey. "We learned more and more about it. Apparently, at one point, he even took a nap under a tree near the creek." On Saturday, little Stevie's airport trip came full circle. Stephen Bowen, who turns 60 in a few days and pilots a Northwest Airlines 747, completed a trip from Tokyo, ending a 39-year career with the airline. At flight's end, friends and family members cheered his career and retirement. He was a special pilot, known by his peers and friends for being ever calm. Pilots will long talk of his extraordinary landing of a 747 in Tokyo in 1991. The 747 had left Tokyo bound for New York. Soon after takeoff, there was "a series of malfunctions," Bowen said. He turned the plane back to Tokyo for an emergency landing. The plane's instruments were meaningless. He was unable to lower flaps. But using every inch of the runway, he was able to land the plane, with one engine on fire. "The passengers applauded the landing," Bowen said. The applause was silenced by panic when passengers saw the fire on the wing. Because of mechanical problems, the doors could not be opened. Passenger's panic levels increased; Bowen remained calm. Doors were eventually opened. Passengers used emergency slides to get off the plane. All made it safely. Bowen received international honors for his heroic efforts. In a career of nearly 20,000 hours of flying, few flights were quite so nerve-racking as the final minutes of his last flight, said Bowen's wife, Ellen, a flight attendant who was with her husband for the finale flight. "His big fear was that he'd bounce his last landing," she said, laughing. His last landing was perfect. For the record, the captain wanted one point made clear. After the trike trip of 1948, "I never got lost going to an airport again." Attached Photo: A clipping from the May 19, 1948, issue of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune.