January 23, 1973: Alexander Onassis, son of Aristotle, tragically dies at the tender age of 24

Alexander Onassis Aristotle Onassis

Alexander Socrates Onassis, the New York City-born son of Aristotle Onassis, was born on April 30, 1948 but tragically died at the young age of 24 on January 23, 1973 in Athens. The American-born businessman was the son of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and his first wife Tina Livanos.

Alexander was named after his father's uncle, who was hanged by a Turkish military tribunal during their sacking of Smyrna in September 1922.

He and his sister Christina Onassis were upset by his father's marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, and he was credited with attempting to improve the relationship between his father and Stavros Niarchos.

The young Onassis was not formally educated and worked for several years for his father at his headquarters in Monaco. Alexander earned a modest salary of $12,000 working for his father despite his father's great wealth.

Alexander was not an enthusiastic employee. A fellow employee said that he seemed in no "great hurry to prove himself an Onassis." Onassis also described himself as never having spent a day not "intimidated by the old man's wealth."

Alexander Onassis, Aristotle Onassis, Onassis

The relationship between him and his father experienced tensions as a result of his secret relationship with British model Fiona Campbell-Walter, former wife of Hans Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de K√°szon.

He was later appointed the head of Olympic Aviation, a Greek regional airline owned by his father.

Alexander had taken his first flying lesson in 1967 and had accrued 1,500 flying hours by the time of his death. His poor eyesight meant that he could not hold an air transport license, but could possess an air commercial license, allowing him to fly light planes and air taxis for emergency medical cases.

He tragically died on January 23, 1973, at the age of 24, from injuries sustained the previous day when his personal Piaggio P.136L-2 amphibious airplane, in which he was a passenger, crashed at Hellinikon International Airport in Athens. Alexander was instructing a potential new pilot of the plane, Donald McCusker, at the time of the crash, in his role as President of Olympic Aviation.

Alexander and McCusker were accompanied by Donald McGregor, Onassis's regular pilot, who was recovering from an eye infection. A few seconds after takeoff from runway 33, the plane's right wing dropped and stayed down, and the plane crashed shortly after losing balance, in a flight lasting no more than 15 seconds.

McCusker and the other pilot both suffered serious injuries in the crash. The trio had planned to practice amphibious landings between the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina and Poros after takeoff.

The day after the crash, Alexander's father and stepmother arrived from New York at the hospital where Alexander was being treated. The couple were accompanied by an American neurosurgeon. Alexander's mother arrived from Switzerland with her husband, Stavros Niarchos.

Alexander Onassis & Odile Rubirosa

Aristotle had also flown the English neurosurgeon Alan Richardson from London to Athens, but Richardson later told Onassis that Alexander had no chance of surviving his injuries.

Aristotle Onassis considered having his son's body cryogenically frozen with the Life Extension Society, but was persuaded against it, and he was embalmed by Desmond Henley.

Alexander Onassis was buried next to the chapel on his father's private Ionian island of Skorpios.

Reports into the crash by the Greek Air Force, and an independent investigator hired by Onassis, the Englishman Alan Hunter, concluded that it had occurred as a result of the reversing of the aileron connecting cables during the installation of a new control column.

This cause was disputed by McGregor who believed that the wake turbulence from an Air France Boeing 727 that had taken off before them had caused the crash.

Less than a month after Alexander's death, McCusker had manslaughter proceedings initiated against him by the public prosecutor of Athens in connection with the crash. Six people were also charged over Onassis's death in January 1974, with their indictment indicating that faulty controls had been fitted to his plane.

In December 1974, in a paid advertisement, Aristotle Onassis announced his offering of a $1,000,000 reward (equivalent to $5.495 million in 2021) for proof that his son's death had been as a result of "deliberate action" as opposed to the cause of negligence, the conclusion reached by the official inquiry.

All charges relating to the crash were later dropped, and McCusker was awarded $800,000 in 1978 by Olympic Airways, three years after Aristotle Onassis's death.

Onassis had refused to believe that his son's death was an accident, believing it was due to the machinations of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the leader of the Greek military junta, Georgios Papadopoulos.

Alexander's death had a profound effect on his father, who never fully recovered from the loss of his son. Aristotle Onassis sought to sell Olympic Airways after his son's death, and died two years later in March 1975. Onassis was buried alongside his son on Skorpios.

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