New York, NY Airplane Falls From Sky During Race, Oct 1913


Flying to Staten Island for Start of Derby, Walb Aeroplane Enters an Air Pocket.


Caught in an air pocked while flying at an altitude of 4,500 feet, Capt. William Walb lost control of his aeroplane at 4:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon and fell into the Narrows in the bay. Five minutes later he was picked up by the Quarantine station steamboat Gov. Flower and taken to Staten Island. His aeroplane was saved, but it was much damaged by the fall. The aviator, when he fell, was flying from the aviation field on Hempstead Plains, L. I., to the aerodrome of the Aeronautical Society at Oakwood Heights, S. I., where he intended to start this afternoon as No. 10 in THE NEW YORK TIMES'S Aerial Derby around Manhattan, which is to be the chief feature of the Aeronautical Society's meet to commemorate the first flight ten years ago of the late Wilbur Wright in a power-driven aeroplane, and for which nine aeroplanes are now on the ground. He had been in the air forty minutes when the accident occurred.

It was announced on Saturday that C. Murvin Wood, in his military aeroplane, the Blue Bird; Albert J. Jewel, in a Moisant aeroplane, and Capt. Walb, in a Schneider biplane, would fly from Long Island to Staten Island by way of Jamaica Bay, Coney Island, and the Narrows to Oakwood Heights. Capt. Walb was the first of the three aviators to start. Wood made the flight successfully, but Jewel decided after his aeroplane had been wheeled from the hangar that it was not in proper condition for the trip. he will go to Oakwood Heights this morning.

The prospect of seeing the aviators start attracted a large crowd to the field at Hempstead, and another large throng awaited their arrival at the aerodrome on Staten Island. Other aviators made ascents at both fields in the afternoon, and two of the contestants made the preliminary flights required by the rules for THE NEW YORK TIMES race. The spectators lingered long after Wood arrived, in the hope of seeing Capt. Walb end the journey on which it was known he had started, but it was not until after dark that it was learned at Oakwood Heights that Walb had met with a mishap.

Walb Starts Without Trouble.

Capt. Walb ascended from the aviation field on Hempstead plains at 3:50 o'clock in the afternoon. He and his mechanic had been at work on the engine of his aeroplane before the start, and for some days the Captain had been making practice flights to test his biplane for structural weaknesses or engine trouble. His machine was in good condition when it was wheeled out in front of the hangar earlier in the afternoon. The engine started for the flight without a hitch, and after the aeroplane left the ground Capt. Walb circled low around the aviation field before ascending to an altitude of 4,000 feet for the trip to Staten Island. The hum of his motor could be heard by the spectators in the field for some time after the aeroplane had been lost to view.

When the aviator arrived over Fort Hamilton it was noticed by those watching him there that the aeroplane was descending. It was on an even keel, and it was thought that Capt. Walb was leaving the upper air to get his bearings preparatory to landing at the aerodrome at Oakwood Heights. Then it was seen that as the biplane neared the Narrows the speed of its descent increased. For the last few feet before it struck the water it fell like a rock. Fortunately it fell in such a way that the Captain was able to get clear of the planes and the wires after the aeroplane struck the surface of the water. The aviator swam around his aeroplane, which was kept afloat by the spread of the planes.

The accident was seen by the men on the Quarantine steamboat Gov. Flower, which was moored at the station at Quarantine. When the boat got to the wreck Capt. Walb was supporting himself in the water by one of the planes. The boat circled around to avoid colliding with the drifting aeroplane. A number of the crew went to the bow, and, as the boat nosed to where Capt. Walb was clinging to his machine, threw a life preserver to him. The sea was so choppy that Walb abandoned his efforts to get it and swam back to his aeroplane. Then the crew of the Gov. Flower lowered one of her small boats and in this Capt. Walb was rescued.

A line was fastened to an outrigger of the wrecked aeroplane and the Gov. Flower, with Capt. Walb on board, towed the aeroplane to the Staten Island shore. Last night the aeroplane lay in eight feet of water off the Quarantine station.

"This accident forces me out of THE NEW YORK TIMES Aerial Derby," said Capt. Walb last night. "I had set my heart upon going into the race and my biplane and engine were in good condition. I had made many practice flights and I had confidence in both my machine and myself to make a good showing in the race."

Capt. Walb said that he had had a narrow escape from death.

Walb's Story of the Accident.

"The only way I can account for the accident," he said, "is that I struck an air pocket. It was a most unexpected happening for I was traveling smoothly and the engine was working without a hitch. My aeroplane seemed to loose buoyancy and the begin to sink, I dropped slowly from about 4,500 feet to 500 feet, and then I seemed to loose all control over the 'plane. It dropped almost straight down. I owe my life solely to the fact that I was over water when I fell.

"I was in the water in all about ten minutes. I got clear of the aeroplane, but just how I did it I cannot tell now. It was all over so quickly. The men on the tug threw me a life belt, but I was unable to get it because the water was so rough. The last part of the fall was pretty quick, and I suffered a severe shock when I struck the water. Beyond that I was not hurt much. The tug that landed me on Staten Island, where the Captain treated me with courtesy and I received coffee and my clothes were dried. The aeroplane will be taken from the water to-day, but I will be unable to enter THE NEW YORK TIMES derby."

There was much concern among the aviation officials when it became known that Capt. Walb had fallen. Russell Holdeman, his mechanic, telephoned to many places seeking news of Walb, but it was not until after dark that he learned the details of his employer's mishap.

Meanwhile the throng at the aerodrome at Oakwood Heights had become anxious because of Walb's failure to appear. Wood, when he arrived, expressed alarm for his friend's safety, because he said Walb had left Hempstead Plains before him. "What has happened to Walb?" was the question that aviators and spectators asked many hundred times. Itwas unanswered until late in the day, when word came to Wood from the Hempstead Field that Walb had fallen into the bay.

The New York Times, New York, NY 13 Oct 1913