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Paul Jan, World War II vet who investigated TWA Flight 800 for FAA, dies at 87

Paul F. Jan

Paul F. Jan Credit: Courtesy Thomas F. Jan

Paul F. Jan, a Federal Aviation Administration investigator who certified the Air Force One fleet for the Johnson administration and helped investigate TWA Flight 800, died at home Wednesday of acute respiratory failure. The Bay Shore resident was 87.

Dr. Thomas F. Jan, one of his two sons, said that his father's "cool" aviation career gave him and his brother, Paul Anthony, experiences that other growing boys could only dream of.

"As a kid, I got to go on Air Force One," said Thomas Jan of Rockville Centre. "A man showing us around told me to put my hand on a desk, and a phone popped up. It was like something in a James Bond movie."

Jan was one of 15 children born to poor Austrian immigrants who settled in New Jersey. He quit high school to work but joined the Navy in the last year of World War II. He flew as an aviation machinist's mate who checked the coast for submarines. During the war, he earned his GED. He later earned a bachelor's degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University and an engineering degree from Columbia University.

Jan retired from the FAA in 2001, after 43 years as chief of the engineering and manufacturing district office at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. He inspected aircraft in retirement until 2010.

Thomas Jan said he got an insider's view of the TWA Flight 800 through his dad. On the evening of July 17, 1996, the Boeing 747-100 that took off from Kennedy Airport bound for Paris exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches.

"They reconstructed the wreckage at Calverton [Executive Airpark], and my father could hardly talk about it," Jan recalled. He said his father became emotional when he saw children's seats with blankets and teddy bears.

"He was the smartest man I'll ever know," said Thomas Jan. "He forgot more about aviation than most people ever knew about it. Aviation was his life, second to his family."

Jan was married for 60 years to Grace Dolores Jan, who died in 2012. In addition to his sons, Thomas and Paul Anthony, with whom he lived in Bay Shore, Jan is survived by a daughter, Laurie Jan-Schroeder of Deer Park and six grandchildren.

A service will be held Monday at noon at the Chapey & Sons Funeral Home, 1225 Montauk Hwy., West Islip. Burial is in Calverton National Cemetery.

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