Jerome Koerner, the radio operator on Northwest Airlines' inaugural passenger flight to Japan in 1947, died on Dec. 19 in Bloomington.

He was 89.

Koerner, who left Northwest in 1950 after radio operators were no longer needed, never stopped admiring aviation.

He lived not far from the end of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's runway 2-2, and most afternoons during retirement, he could be found looking up at Northwest's flight to Tokyo.

It was a different kind of flight than the one he made 60 years ago.

The 1947 flight was supposed to take 33 hours. Flying at 10,000 feet meant a lot of turbulence and sick passengers.

Fuel and crew change stops were made in Anchorage and on the island of Shemya in the north Pacific Ocean.

Koerner's job was to communicate with ground stations, clicking away in Morse code.

On that first trip on July 15, 1947, foul weather turned back the flight with the second crew from Shemya. By the time things were sorted out, Koerner flew on all three legs, all the way to Tokyo. The passengers were on board for at least two days, said Stephen Bowen of Maple Grove, a retired Northwest pilot.

When radio operators' jobs were eliminated around 1950, Koerner went to work for Bowen's father, a maker of elevator compartments, as an accountant.

Bowen and Koerner became fast friends.

"He was one of the most ethical people I knew," said Bowen, and "he loved NWA."

Koerner grew up in Burlington, Iowa, and in 1941, he went to radio operators' school in Kansas City.

He joined Northwest in 1942, working on military contract flights to Alaska's Aleutian Islands. After World War II, he flew to Manila, the Philippines, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

After leaving Northwest, Koerner often used a special radio to capture airport tower and approach frequencies, "knowing exactly when the flight took off for Tokyo," said Bob Hudson of Apple Valley, a former NWA pilot.

Koerner retired from his accounting post at the elevator company in the late 1980s. He moved to a nursing home in September 2006, but spent many Sundays at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, watching the big jets. He was at the airport just two days before he died, family members said.

His wife of 56 years, Mollie, died in 2006.

He is survived by his son, Barry Koerner of Lakeville; a daughter, Shelley Klaessy of Minnetonka, and two grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m., Jan. 5 at Washburn-McReavy, 5125 W. Broadway, Crystal, with visitation at 10 a.m. at the funeral chapel.