Dorchester Bay – July 1, 1912
On July 1, 1912, world famous aviator Harriet Quimby, and a passenger, William A. Willard, were flying in a two-seat Bleroit monoplane over Dorchester Bay towards Squantum Aviation Field when the aircraft was caught by a sudden gust of wind which lifted the tail and caused the aircraft to “nose forward” while 1,000 feet in the air. Both Willard and Miss Quimby were pitched from their seats and were killed when they hit the water. The airplane then turned completely over in the air and came down in the bay.
The accident was witnessed by thousands who had come to the Boston Aero meet to watch the flight of several aircraft make their way to Boston Light and back. Ironicly, Mr. Willard wasn’t originally scheduled to fly with Miss Quimby. According to one report, newspaper photographer A. B. Reed was supposed to make the flight, but a change was made at the last minute.
At the time of the accident the tide was low, and the water was only about five feet deep. The bodies of Miss Quimby and Mr. Willard were quickly recovered by men in motor boats, and transported to the morgue in the town of Qunicy. This was reported to be the first airplane crash fatality in New England.
The aircraft was also recovered, however there seems to be conflicting reports about the amount of damage it sustained in the fall. One report stated, “The powerful Bleriot, after being freed of its two passengers glided off gracefully into the wind and struck the water on an even keel then dove its nose into the mud and turned over on its back. It was recovered undamaged except for a few broke struts and wires.”
However, another report stated, “The wreckage today was dragged from the five feet of water where it stuck in the mud head down. Some mechanical parts may be saved. Otherwise it is a total loss.”
The Bridgeport Evening Farmer reported as to the possible cause of the accident. “A dozen explanations of the cause of the first heavier than air machine fatality in New England were voiced today by aviators and experts. The most logical seemed to be that the controlling wire broke when Miss Quimby started her downward glide, snapping the fuselage and throwing the tail up and the head down with such great force that the two aviators were hurled from their seats as if shot from a catapult.”
The incident gained national attention in the press for Miss Quimby had gained international fame in a relatively short time. In 1911 she became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America, and in April of 1912, the first woman to fly across the English Cannel. At one point she was hailed by the American press as being “the leading woman aviator of the world”.
In May of 1911 Miss Quimby had survived an earlier plane accident while at the Moisant School in Mineola, New York, when the plane she was piloting fell ten feet and was wrecked. Miss Quimby wasn’t hurt.
Harriet Quimby is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. To see a photograph of her grave see www.findagrave.com, Memorial #4020
Mr. Willard was a widower, survived by two sons and a daughter.
Much more has been written about the life of Harriet Quimby which can be found elsewhere on the Internet.
Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (CT.), “Miss Quimby Falls In Her Bleriot Today”, May 12, 1911
The Marion Daily Mirror, (Ohio), “Harriet Quimby, Leading Woman Aeroplane Expert”, May 31, 1911
Bridgeport Evening Farmer, Mother Takes Remains Of Woman Flyer”, July 2, 1912, page 3
The Washington Times, (Wash. D.C.), “Harriet Quimby And Passenger Killed In Fall From Monoplane”, July 2, 1912
The Sun, (N.Y.), “Harriet Quimby Killed By Fall”, July 2, 1912
El Paso Herald, (TX.), “Harriet Quimby Falls 1000 Feet To Death”, July 2, 1912