Newport, RI – July 2, 1928

Newport, Rhode Island – July 2, 1928 

     On July 2, 1928, Commander Thalbert N. Alford, USN, was piloting a Vought O2U Corsair over Newport Harbor.  Lieutenant Commander William Butler Jr. was aboard as an observer. 

     Commander Alford was doing some stunt flying, going through a series of loops and rolls 5000 feet over Newport, to the delight of onlookers on the ground.   After the plane made three successive loops, it suddenly went into a spinning dive and slammed nose first into the water. Butler managed to free himself and floated to the surface, but Commander Alford went down with the aircraft. 

     Crewmen from several nearby naval vessels immediately launched boats and raced towards the scene. The first to arrive was a boat from the U.S.S. Antares with the ship’s doctor aboard. 

     Lieutenant Commander Butler was plucked from the water and rushed to Newport Naval Hospital where he died shortly afterwards.  His injuries were severe, but he reportedly maintained consciousness up until about five minutes before his death.  At his bedside were his wife Adelle, and three officers from the U.S.S. Wright who would later make up the board of inquest. At one point he told the men, “They should not allow such planes to be used for stunting.”

      Meanwhile recovery efforts for the aircraft and the body of Commander Alford were taking place. The navy tug Bob-o-link successfully hauled the plane to the surface.  Commander Alford was found still strapped in the cockpit, dead from the crushing force of the impact and not from drowning.  

     Commander Alford was born in Wills Point, Texas, October 26, 1888, and entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1905, shortly before his 17th birthday. 

     During World War I he earned the Navy Cross while serving overseas as commanding officer of the destroyer U.S.S. Nicholson.  After the war he served in Washington, D.C. with the Bureau of Engineering, later transferring to the Naval Communications Office. 

     He earned his wings as a navy pilot in August of 1927, less than one year before the accident.   

     Lieutenant Commander Butler was born October 2, 1896 in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and was 31-years-old at the time of his death.  He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1920, and earned his pilots wings December 21, 1926.

     The Corsair involved in the accident was assigned to Lieutenant Commander Butler, who at the time was serving aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Concord.  On the day of the crash, the Concord was away at sea, and both the plane and Lieutenant Commander Butler had been detailed to Gould Island.   


Providence Journal “Navy Fliers Fall To Death In Bay”, July 3, 1928, Page 1


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