Thursday, August 15, 2013

Two Friends Meet a Tragic End

The greatest aviator of his time was lost. Wiley Post was the first pilot to fly around the world twice, and the first to fly solo. He helped create the pressure suit (because the cabin of his Lockheed plane, Winnie Mae, could not be pressurized) and discovered the jet stream. But not long after departing Fairbanks, Alaska, on this day in 1935, Post, due to bad weather, could not find his way to Point Barrow, so he landed in a river near a village to ask a group of Eskimo seal hunters for directions.

With him was good friend Will Rogers, a humorist, syndicated columnist and veteran of over 70 films who in 1934 had been voted the most popular actor in Hollywood. Both Oklahomans, the two men were at the beginning of a casual sightseeing trip over the Pacific through Asia. They were flying a hybrid aircraft Post built using parts from two Lockheeds—an Orion and an Explorer—fitted with floats to be able to land on water. While Post flew, Rogers, seated behind him, wrote his columns on a typewriter.

Some have speculated that the floats may have been too heavy for the craft. Others say the two men may have been distracted and forgot to switch fuel tanks to a fresh one. Whatever happened, the plane, flying low but climbing, suddenly stalled, careened to the right and crashed inverted into the river. Both men died instantly.

Their deaths are commemorated with two monuments at the crash sight, both of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

And so it goes...

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