Fort Myer, VA WRIGHT Plane Crashes, Sep 1908

Thomas Selfridge first airplane fatality.jpg Wright Flyer over Fort Myer.jpg Wright Flyer soon after crash.jpg Selfridge Unconscious.jpg Lt. Selfridge Grave marker Arlington Memorial.jpg







Washington, Sept. 18. -- ORVILLE WRIGHT met with a tragical mishap while making a two-man flight. He was accompanied by Lieutenant THOMAS F. SELFRIDGE of the signal corps of the army.
Lieutenant SELFRIDGE was fatally injured and died in the hospital at Fort Myer a few hours later.
MR. WRIGHT was seriously injured, but is expected to recover.
While the machine was encircling the drill grounds a propeller blade snapped off and, hitting some other part of the intricate mechanism, caused it to overturn in the air and fall to the ground, enveloping the two occupants in the debris.
Soldiers and spectators ran across the field to where the aeroplane had fallen and assisted in lifting MR. WRIGHT and Lieutenant SELFRIDGE from under the tangled mass of machinery, rods, wire and shreds of muslin. MR. WRIGHT was conscious and said, "Oh, hurry and lift the motor." Lieutenant SELFRIDGE was unconscious and had apparently struck the ground with great force. His head was covered with blood and he was choking when the soldiers extricated him from under the machine.
DR. WATTERS, a New York physician, was one of the first to reach the spot and rendered first aid to the injured men. When their wounds had been bandaged MR. WRIGHT and Lieutenant SELFRIDGE were taken to the Fort Myer hospital, at the other end of the field. It was feared that MR. WRIGHT was suffering from internal injuries. He had lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness by the time he reached the hospital, while Lieutenant SELFRIDGE did not regain consciousness at all. He was suffering from a fracture at the base of his skull and was in a critical condition.
After a hurried surgical examination it was announced that MR. WRIGHT was not seriously injured. He is suffering from a fracture of his left thigh and several ribs on the right side are fractured. Both men received deep cuts about the head. MR. WRIGHT regained conscioiusness at the hospital and dictated a cablegram to his brother at Lemans, France, and requested that the same message be sent to his sister and father at Dayton, O., assuring them that he was all right.
Although there have been but a handful of people at the aeronautical testing grounds at Fort Myer during the past few days, fully 2,000 had gathered to witness the two-man flight. The aeroplane was in its shed when MR. WRIGHT arrived and he ordered it taken to the northern end of the field, to be placed on the starting track in readiness for a flight.
Everybody was ordered back from the machine, and MR. WRIGHT turned to Lieutenant SELFRIDGE and said: "You might as well get in. We'll start in a couple of minutes."
MR. WRIGHT several days ago announced that he would take Lieutenant SELFRIDGE, who is secretary of the Aerial Experiment association and an aeroplanist himself, in his next flight. The young officer was delighted to have an opportunity to fly in the aeroplane. He was to leave Saturday for St. Joseph, Mo., where he was to assist Lieutenant FOULERS in operating the Baldwin airship at the coming army maneuvers.
After MR. WRIGHT told him to get in the machine, Lieutenant SELFRIDGE took off his coat and hat and took his place in the extra seat next to that occupied by MR. WRIGHT, the latter started the motor by means of a storage battery, his assistants, TAYLOR and FURNESS, turning the propellers to get them going. When the aeroplane was released it was noticed that it did not rise as quickly from the ground as on previous two-man flights. Lieutenant SELFRIDGE weighted about 175 pounds, making the weight greater than the machine had ever carried before.
After gliding over the ground on its runners for 30 feet, the machine rose gradually and had gained a height of 40 feet when it passed over the starting apparatus for the first time.
There was s six-mile wind, and it was noticed that the machine did not run as smoothly as on its former flights, most of which were made in calm weather. The aeroplanists, however, apparently had control of the aerial flyer, which rose to a height of 75 feet as it completed the second round of the field. This height was maintained on the third round.
While the machine was turning at the southern end of the field, several thousand feet from the spectators, some one shouted: "What is that? Something fell." Immediately all eyes were turned on the aeroplane, and it was seen to turn over on its left side and, pausing a moment, made a complete turn and then came swooping to the earth in a cloud of dust. No effort on the part of the aviator could possibly have averted the accident. Planes and rudders were absolutely incapable of righting the machine when it had turned in that manner.
ORVILLE WRIGHT had confidently hoped and expected to meet all the requirements without a serious flaw developing in the machine his genius had developed. He realized, however, the danger to which the work subjected him.
It was but a few days ago that he said the greatest danger which he had to face was his "own inexperience and the possibility that he may do something wrong in making the flights."
He commented on the change in the methods of operating the levers as compared with his previous machines, and pointed out that where the movements of the old machine were instinctive, the same was not the case in the last machine, and that with the latter the operator had
"to think, which is dangerous on account of the possibility of not thinking fast enough."
MR. WRIGHT exercised what he believed to be extreme caution in starting his flights. Time and again he planned to make a flight, but as the hour he had tentatively fixed arrived he refused to take out his machine because of the unfavorable conditions. He had been out in a 12-mile wind in previous flights, but an 11-mile breeze a day or two ago served to deter him. In the first flight at Fort Myer, WRIGHT made one of the mistakes he had feared and pulled a lever in the wrong direction, but fortunately the machine descended without damage.
"I have flown in a 20-mile breeze," he said, "and I expect to do so again, but not until I get acquainted with the arrangement of seats and levers."
Several days ago an admirer of the WRIGHT brothers made application to a Washington insurance agent for a life policy in favor of ORVILLE WRIGHT. The agency applied in the regular way to the home office. The agent received a letter from the officials of the company saying that "we can not issue a policy in favor of MR. WRIGHT or any one else in his line of work. We consider the hazard too great at this time, but it is possible that in the future aerial navigation will reach a development which may change this view."
Representatives of accident insurance companies would not even consider a policy in his favor.

Evening Independent Massillon Ohio 1908-09-18