Wearing white beachcomber pants, a soft robin-egg-blue polo shirt and sporting a deep golden-brown tan, 46-year-old Phillip Maresca radiates his enthusiasm for life.
"I love life . . . I love Salt Lake and all that the city has to offer . . . and most of all I love to ski and I love to fly."Maresca, the co-pilot on the TWA Athens-to-Rome Flight 847 that was hijacked to the Middle East in 1985, said he views life differently now.
"Before, like so many others, I took so much that we have in America for granted. Even though I had been exposed to many cultures less fortunate than our own, I was still complacent about what we have here," he said.
Maresca said he didn't begin to appreciate what Americans have until he saw how the people in Lebanon lived. "I can't imagine living in a place without a police department, a fire department, civil service, electricity, a sewer system or a water system," he said. "It was total chaos."
Maresca believes only about 15 percent of the Lebanese people are terrorists. The others are just trying to carry on an existence in a land in which they have no control. "It's those people I feel sorry for."
Maresca said it's virtually impossible to take his freedom, his family and friends for granted ever again after being at the mercy of the terrorists for 17 days - never quite sure if they would live to see the end of each day.
The pilot, who has been on a medical leave for four months after he skied off a cliff at Snowbird and ruptured his Achilles tendon, will have to relive the hostage ordeal when he flies to Germany in September to testify at a trial for a man charged in the hijacking.
"At first I was reluctant to go, but now I am sure that I want to testify and see that justice is done," Maresca said.
Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Lebanese Shiite Moslem, is charged with air piracy and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, who was killed during the June 1985 hijacking.
Meanwhile, "I live my life a little fuller, a little richer now," Maresca said. "There's no question about it. I think about the things that are happening to me and around me all the time, and I no longer just let life slide by."
An avid skier from Baldwin, N.Y., Maresca moved to Salt Lake City 51/2 years ago. "I was spending so much time skiing the slopes here, I decided it would be easier to live in Utah and commute to New York to work, even if it means two extra days travel time," he said.
While skiing at Alta in 1985, he found a love greater than skiing; the new Mrs. Maresca.
"We met on a New York-to-Salt Lake flight," explained his wife, Marsha. "He was the co-pilot and I was a flight attendant. We were both flying to Utah for the early ski season at Alta."
While they both admit it was love at first sight, it was several months before they had their first date, alone. "We were always surrounded by crew members and skiing buddies," Marsha said. The two were married in September 1986.
The couple jokingly refers to their five-bedroom home as the "Maresca Hilton" as they have a great deal of company in the winter.
"Phil skis every one of his days off," Marsha said. "Therefore, the word of the house is, `If you don't ski, don't visit during the winter.' "
In the summer, when the ski season is over, the Marescas love to hike in the canyons with their year-old dogs - Penny, a golden retriever, and Onyx, a black Labrador.
Maresca said he feels as if he is a one-man chamber of commerce for Salt Lake City. "This is such a great place to live," he said. "Salt Lake is kind of laid back compared to a lot of bigger cities, yet it has so much to offer for its size."
Maresca said his first exposure to Utah was through his work. "I had a long layover in Salt Lake and I was impressed with the cleanliness of the city."
He said the area's social climate is as great as the physical climate. "One of the nicest things that came out of the horror of the hijacking was the huge bag of cards and letters I received, especially from the people in Utah, expressing their love and concern for me and for my safety.
"It was really touching to read the cards and letters, especially from the 8- and 10-year-old school-age kids, and to know how much so many people cared."
Besides being a pilot, a skier, and a husband, his future plans also include becoming an author. "When I retire, (in 14 years) I plan to write a novel." Maresca, who admits his writing skills are somewhat primitive, has chosen the novel approach rather than a day-by-day factual account of the hijacking.
"This will allow me the freedom to add intrigue and suspense to the background surrounding the event itself," he said.
The pilot and the second officer have already written books about the hijacking, Maresca said, but that doesn't deter him from writing another. "When you take three different people looking at the same situation, you're going to get three different points of view."
When he first returned from the incident, he began writing down everything he could remember. "I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I now have an outline and a large box of notes that will be the basis for my book."
Other plans the Marescas have include traveling throughout Utah. "We took our first trip south of Provo this summer," he said. "We went to Lake Powell and rented a house boat, and it was absolutely delightful."
Maresca said he feels there is so much to do and see in Utah, that after flying all over the world, when he comes home the only traveling he wants to do is by car.