Sunday, July 21, 2019

Twelve Die in Balloon Holocaust -- July 21, 2019

Seattle Star, 22-July-1919
100 years ago today, on 22-July-1919, Goodyear Blimp "Wingfoot Air Express" was flying over Chicago. It crashed through the roof of a bank. Many were killed on the dirigible and in the bank. 

Twelve Die
in Balloon

CHICAGO, July 22. -- (United Press.) -- Twelve dead and 26 injured was the final count today of casualties in Chicago's most modern tragedy -- the fall of an aircraft thru the skylight of a metropolitan business building. Late yesterday a 100-foot dirigible fell blazing into the counting room of the Illinois Trust & Savings Co.

Two members of the "Wingfoot" express, a photographer, and nine employes of the bank were among the dead. Most of them were burned to death when the gas bag with its heavy fuselage burst thru steel and plate glass and spread burning gasoline in all directions. A score of investigations, headed by the coroner and the state's attorney, opened today. Seventeen men, mostly employes of the Goodyear Rubber company, owners of the "Wingfoot," were held for examination.

The flight of the balloon was watched by thousands in the streets.

The great "blimp" was making a test flight and had been flying above the city for several hours. When about 500 feet above the bank the dirigible burst into flames and fell, crashing thru the glass skylight of the bank and its iron supports, and falling to the marble floor in the rotunda beneath.

The two gasoline tanks exploded and burst into flames, scattering the flames over the people in the bank. Many were cut by great chunks of broken glass from the skylight.

Women on Fire

The employes of the bank, mostly women, some with clothes afire, ran screaming from the building thru the two exits. The exits became blocked and jammed with bodies. Meanwhile hurry calls had been sent for every available ambulance and police patrol in the city. Many of the surviving women won their way to the sidewalk to collapse in a faint.

The Intense heat inside the bank broke the plate glass windows on the outside and made rescue work difficult. The work of rescuing the bodies of those burned beneath the huge craft could not be started until 35 minutes later, when the wreckage cooled sufficiently to allow approach.

John Boettner, pilot of the craft, telling of the wreck, said:

"When we were about 500 feet up, I felt the machine buckle and saw a spurt of flame shoot from the side of the bag. Calling to the others to jump, I leaped overboard. The others followed milt. My parachute caught fire, but I landed safely."

Henry Weaver and Harry Wacker, mechanicians of the "blimp," followed Boettner. Weaver's parachute caught fire and he was caught beneath the falling ship and wan killed.

Parachute in Flames

K. M. Norton, cameraman for a morning newspaper, jumped, but his parachute caught fire. He landed In the street below, breaking both legs and sustaining internal injuries.

Karl H. Davenport, publicity man for an amusement park, for some reason did not jump, and he was carried to his death in the blazing ship.

Carl Otto, another mechanic, was caught in the wreckage and died.

The dead are:
CARPENTER, Jacob, 16, bank messenger.
BERGER, Helen, bank stenographer.
DAVENPORT, Earl H., publicity man in the "blimp."
FLORENCE, Maria, bank clerk.
GALLAGHER, Mary, bank stenographer.
MILES, Irene, bank stenographer.
MEYEr, Evelyn, bank stenographer.
MUNZER. Edwin, bank clerk.
OTTO, Carl, bank telegrapher.
SCANLAN, Joseph, bank messenger.
WEAVER, Carl, mechanic in the dirigible, Akron, Ohio.

Boettner, pilot of the machine, was taken into custody last night until an investigation can be made.

The council, at a meeting last night, passed a resolution ordering the corporation counsel to draft an ordinance which prohibits aircraft from flying over the city.

With hastily gathered furniture, the bank reopened today. A loss of $50,000 in bonds, supposed to have been burned, was announced.

President John J. Mitchell hesitated to estimate the amount of property loss involved.

"I'm thinking of the deaths of those people whom I knew personally," he said. He thought $15,000 would replace fixtures.

Mitchell indicated the Goodyear company had offered to settle damages and "do whatever was right" for families of the victims.

Pilot J. A. Boettner at first blamed static for the burning of his machine. Later he said sparks from the rotary motor -- an experiment for "blimps" -- may have set the gas bag afire. The motors, he said, were intended to "pull" instead of drive a machine. Attached as they were, he said, exhaust flames may have been blown against the fabric.

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