Living alone in a rural area, a gentleman of my disposition is occasionally given to wondering about curious historical facts. Such as this noon, when, as I watered my tomato plants, I found myself contemplating the very first airplane crash. Which, of course, led to a mad rush of questions, most of which are probably best unanswered. Still, I did a few searches, and came upon some interesting information. So, for those among you who are curious and odd, here is a brief history of the crash:
To answer my original inquiry, the first fatal plane crash took place on the evening of September 17th, 1908, in Fort Meyer, Virginia. Five years after the Wright Brothers first successful journey to the sky, Orville Wright was demonstrating their plane for the US Army, and had given two successive military passengers their wings in the course of a week. On the third attempt, Wright took to the air with Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge. Depending on the source (both non-professional; give a librarian a break, will you? it’s my day off!) the plane had circled the airfield either three or four and a half times, when Wright heard unusual sounds coming from the rear of the plane. Shortly thereafter, a propeller fell off and Wright lost control. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull, and never regained consciousness; Wright broke a leg and four ribs, along with other injuries. Those of you so inclined can see pictures of the crash here.
The first mid-air collision of airliners occurred on April 7th, 1922, over Thieuloy-Saint-Antoine, France. A mail plane headed from Croydon Airport in England to Le Bourget airport in Paris collided with a passenger plane making the opposite trip. Seven people were killed.
Strangely, Croydon, a borough of London, was also the site of the first fatal accident involving a modern car. Bridgett Driscoll, a woman in her mid-forties, was killed on August 17th, 1896, when she was struck by a vehicle driven by Arthur James Edsall. Witnesses reported the car was moving at “a reckless pace;” a cabbie who inspected the car said its top speed would be about 4.5 miles per hour.
The first person to die in a motor vehicle accident was Mary Ward, an Irish scientist who was killed when she was thrown from a steam car driven by her cousin in August 1869. The earliest account I could locate of an accident in which the driver was killed took place in Surrey, England on February 2nd, 1898. 42-year-old Henry Lindfield made leave of this life when he lost control of the car while speeding down a hill and straight into a tree. (Want to guess where Lindfield was taken? That’s right, Croydon Hospital.) Assuming that account to be accurate, this plaque, claiming the first such occurrence to be in February 1899, would be incorrect. This morbid memorial commemorates the death of Edwin Sewell, here said to have taken place in July 1899.
This post would not be complete, however, without mention of the very first time that a modern car crashed. The man responsible for the wreck was James William Lambert. Lambert was driving “the first single-cylinder gasoline automobile” when he hit a tree root and ran into a hitching post. Lambert and his passenger, James Swoveland, suffered minor injuries.
Alright, that’s all. Back to work, everybody…