Alan Jones has described three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda as an ‘extraordinary person’.
Lauda was laid to rest in Vienna on Wednesday after dying at the age of 70 last Monday, triggering an outpouring of grief from the sport.
“Niki was an extraordinary person, extraordinary,” Jones said during an appearance on Fox Sports’ The Backpage.
“Not only was he a magnificent racing driver, multiple world champion, but a successful business person, a fantastic aviator.
“This is a man that’s airplane crashed; he took on Boeing and beat them. He was just an extraordinary man.”
After retiring from F1 at the end of 1985, Lauda founded LaudaAir, which led to a chance encounter with Jones during a flight from Europe.
“I was coming home from England, and I was with my wife, and we hopped on Lauda Air in Vienna to fly back to Australia,” Jones recalled.
“I was sitting there and heard this voice come over the PA, and I said, ‘that’s Niki’.
“She said, ‘well, tell the hostie,’ and I said, ‘is that Mr. Lauda up there?’ The hostie wouldn’t tell me because she probably thought ‘who is this bloke wanting to know?’.
“I said, ‘just tell him that Alan Jones is down the back’.
“Anyway, she came back and said, ‘Niki said come up’, so I went up to the cockpit and stayed there virtually the whole trip.
“What happened was that Niki’s captain phoned in crook for that flight to go to Vienna, so in typical Niki style, had an old sports coat on, his old red Parmalat hat, jumped in the car, went to the airport, took over as captain of the 777 and flew to Malaysia with 300 people on board.”