Carmen Figueroa: Saved by man named Toby

“What is your name?” . . . “They call me Toby,” he said.
She thanked him as he swam off into the darkness, and that was the last
my mother saw of him.

My Parents Survived Flying Tiger 923
By Juan Figueroa Jr.

My parents, Capt. Juan G. Figueroa, MD and Carmen Figueroa, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, survived this accident. It was an accident that has always been the story of their lives. I grew up listening to their stories and looking at the pictures and magazines that they collected through the years.

When my brother and I were kids our parents were invited to a TV show in Puerto Rico. My brother and I were allowed to join our parents while they answered questions and told their stories. The name of the show was “El Show de Tommy”.  I’ve always wished for a copy of the show but have been able to obtain one.

My father’s experience was reported extensively in an earlier post, so in this writing I will emphasize my mother’s experience.

Carmen Figueroa

Carmen Figueroa

Immediately after impact, my mother, Carmen, jumped into the open ocean. It was of course in the dark of night and a gale-force storm was raging. High waves and wind moved her away from the remains of the sinking airplane into what felt to her like a vast pit of total darkness.  She was completely disoriented and alone.

Out of nowhere, a young fellow came swimming toward my mother. He called to her loudly and confidently, “Follow me, swim this way!”

My mother asks, “Where is the raft!”  He answers in a commanding voice, “The raft is this way, follow me.”

She shouts, “How do you know?”  He says loudly, “Trust me, follow me. I know.”

My mother followed him into what she said was pitch darkness — nothing to be seen or heard.  After a few minutes of swimming in the dark, she told me that she started hearing voices, people crying and yelling … and there is the raft!  She was almost there.

My mother said she asked the man, “What is your name?”

“They call me Toby.” 

She thanked Toby as he swam off into the darkness and that was the last she saw of him.

Carmen Leaving Rescue Ship

Carmen Figueroa Helped off Ship

After the rescue my parents searched through the entire passenger list and found no one named Toby or Tobias.  They asked all of the survivors if they knew of a ‘Toby.’   It was a total mystery. No Toby or Tobias.

And my mother has always wondered, “Why would someone swim away from safety, into pitch darkness, to rescue me?  How could anyone see me?   How could Toby know which way to swim?” It is a mystery never to be solved.

Another twist to my parent’s story is that at exactly the time of impact of the Flying Tiger into the sea, my grandfather (father’s father) woke up in the middle of the night and called my uncle on the phone.  He told my uncle that something terribly wrong has happened to my parents.

My uncle called my father’s Air Force base. It took quite a few tries, but finally he spoke with someone who knew about flight 923.  He was told that the flight departed and that it was on its way to Germany and when it was scheduled to arrive in Frankfurt.  The person on the other end of the line had no idea that anything out of the ordinary might have happened.

Our family has always been amazed at this fact that my grandfather woke at that specific moment in time (the time of the crash) and felt something very serious had happened.

I believe there must be another dimension to our existence which brings us these kind of events and experiences that we cannot explain. I was born nine months after this accident.  My parents adopted me, and my mother passed away (cancer) when I was finishing high school.  I found my birth mother in the early 90’s.  It’s been a beautiful life.

I know I will be shaking hands with Toby one day in the future, in this world or the next one to come.  “Thanks Toby, for saving my mother Carmen Figueroa.”

(Note: Juan Jr. is a commercial airline pilot and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

About Fred Caruso

Survivor of the crash of Flying Tiger 923. at night, at sea, 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland, with 28 deaths and 48 survivors, September 23, 1962.
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One Response to Carmen Figueroa: Saved by man named Toby

  1. Miki Sanchez says:

    There is more to this story. My Aunt Carmen said she did not have the strength to get out of the raft as she was exhausted. She prayed out loud to St. Jude, the saint of the impossible. Toby heard her and then he went silently underwater to push her onto the raft. As he did this to save her, he again disappeared into the darkness. Was he real? Did he use his last strength to save her and then drowned? But then, how do you explain the non existence of a Toby or Tobias on the passenger manifesto? I will never forget Titi Carmen, a strong woman of faith and determination.

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