- Historic Sites
100 Years Ago: The World’s First Airplane Fatality
Fall 2008 | Volume 58, Issue 5
The aeroplane seemed to tip sharply for a fraction of a second, then it started up for about ten feet; this was followed by a short, sharp dive and a crash in the field,” reported the New York Times about the crash of Orville Wright and Lt. Thomas Selfridge in Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 17, 1908. “Instantly the dust arose in a yellow, choking cloud that spread a dull pall over the great white man-made bird that had dashed to its death.”
A cavalry officer ordered his men to control the crowd of some 2,000, including top Army officials, who surged toward the wreckage. Rescuers pulled out the bloodied, unconscious forms of the 38-year-old Wright brother and Selfridge, a 26-year-old member of the Army Signal Corps, aeroplanist, and secretary of the Aerial Experiment
Association. Three hours later, Selfridge died, giving him the dubious distinction of being the first fatality from a powered aircraft.
Wright regained consciousness and survived a broken leg, along with fractured ribs and hip bones, which left him in pain for the rest of his life.
Despite the crash, which resulted when a propeller split and flew into other parts of the plane, the Army remained interested in the Wright plane, and the War Department bought the invention.
Today flying is by far the safest mode of travel in miles logged.