Chapter 12 - 1923
September 23, 1923
SEVENTEEN BALLOONS START IN RACE TODAY - Rain and Wind Predicted for Brussels and Vicinity. - BRUSSELS, September 22 - Balloonists representing six countries, including the United States, are likely to get a thorough soaking and to have plenty of wind in to-morrow's race for the Gordon Bennett cup. A tempest was raging to-day and the predictions were that it would continue to-morrow. The Italians have withdrawn from the contest because Premier Mussolini refused to approve an appropriation for their expenses. The order for starting has been determined by lot as follows: - [list of balloons, pilots and countries.]
[A torrential rain fell as the bags were being filled. At noon, conditions were so unfavorable that only the precise texts of the rules governing the race prevented a postponement. At this time a steady fresh breeze was blowing from the west, between 25 and 30 MPH, at times veering to southwesterly, but within half an hour after the last balloon cast off a terrific storm which lasted until 10 PM was raging at Brussels, and over northern Belgium, Holland, and North Sea waters. Aviation Oct 8, 1923 p438]
September 24, 1923
U.S. BALLOONS ARE UNLUCKY AT START - Accidents in Gordon Bennett Race - St Louis Bursts. - BRUSSELS, September 23. (Associated Press) - Several unfortunate incidents marked the start of the race to-day for the James Gordon Bennett cup, the American balloons being especially unlucky. The United States Army S-6 was too heavily ballasted and drifted on to the Belgian Ville de Bruxelles, tearing the rigging so badly that the Belgian balloon was unable to start.
The United States Navy A-6699 narrowly escaped catastrophe and was obliged to throw out ballast wholesale, which fell among the spectators.
The St Louis, the third American balloon, was caught by a heavy squall and burst ten minutes before the time for her departure.
The Spanish balloon Polas caught fire in a storm and fell near Heyst-Goor, near Heyst Op-den-berg, according to latest advices. The aeronaut, Penaranda Barca, was killed and the other pilot, Gomez Guillamon, was injured and taken to a hospital at Heyst Op-den-berg.
One of the balloons fell near Deverloo. It is believed to have been the Swiss entrant Geneva. It was struck by lightning and dropped to the high road between Moll and Meerhout. The occupants of the balloon Lieut. Von Gruningen and Lieut. Wehren, who replaced Lieut. Burki, are reported killed.
Seventeen balloons lined up for the race. The United States, Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland were represented by three entries each, and England by two. The three Italian entries withdrew as well as one carrying the colors of Poland.
A heavy rain fell as the bags were being filled. At noon conditions were so unfavorable that only the precise texts of the rules governing the race prevented a postponement.
A steady fresh breeze was blowing from the west, between twenty-five and thirty miles an hour, at times veering to southwesterly, which would make northern Germany or Scandinavian countries probable landing places. -
September 25, 1923
TWO U.S.AIRMEN AMONG 5 KILLED IN BELGIAN RACE - Lieuts. Olmsted and Shoptaw Die When Army Balloon is Destroyed. - SIX ENTRIES STILL MISSING - Storm Causes Anxiety for Fate of Contestants; American Navy Bag Lands Safely. - BRUSSELS, September 24 (Associated Press) - Five airmen, including two United States Army lieutenants, lost their lives, another was seriously injured and five balloons were smashed on the ground or destroyed by lightning in the James Gordon Bennett cup race started yesterday under the worst weather conditions ever experienced in the history of this competition. The dead are:
Lieut. Olmsted and Lieut. Shoptaw of the United States balloon S-6.
Lieut. von Gruningen and Lieut. Wehren of the Swiss Balloon Geneva.
Penaranda Barca of the Spanish balloon, Polar.
Injuries so serious that he may die were received by Gomez Guillamon, assistant to Barca in the Polar.
The following balloons have landed: [7 balloons named]
An unconfirmed report reached here this afternoon that the Belgian balloon Belgica piloted by DeMuyter had landed in Oldenburg and that DeMuyter had been arrested with his assistant and the balloon confiscated.
Anxiety for Missing.
In view of the storm which broke out half an hour after the last balloon took off and which was raging over northern Belgium and Holland until 10 o'clock last night, fears are entertained for the safety of the six balloons not yet heard from.
The American Army balloon S-6 was caught in a vortex of a terrific southwesterly gale in crossing the Belgian frontier about 7 o'clock last evening, the rain storm forcing the balloonists to unload all their ballast. When the balloon crashed at Nistelrode both men were dead. Nistelrode is in the Province of North Brabant, Holland.
Lieut. Olmsted was killed outright when lightning struck the balloon, while Lieut. Shoptaw was killed when the S-6 fell, in the opinion of Dr Van Binbergen of Nistelrode, who examined the bodies. He said that Lieut. Olmsted's body was found under the bag in the basket, while that of his companion was about 35 feet away, as if the victim had jumped.
The third American entrant in the race, the balloon St Louis, never took the air, bursting before the start from the pressure of her mooring line.
[The "Geneva" a Swiss entrant, was struck by lightning near Beverloo and burned in midair. Her pilot, Lieutenant von Gruningen and aid, Lieutenant Wehren, were killed. Aviation Oct 23, 1923 p 438]
Spaniard Tells of Escape
Gomez Guillamon of the Spanish balloon Polar, which crashed yesterday, had sufficiently recovered from his injuries to-day to tell the story of the accident. Guillamon said the Polar was struck by lightning while at an altitude of 3,500 feet. It had only a few seconds previously escaped crashing to the ground. Penaranda Barca, the other occupant, threw sand overboard and the balloon shot up into the storm.
Then came the lightning bolt, which set the bag on fire. It burned speedily, with the exception of the upper part, which was of slower combustion and acted as a parachute. Guillamon jumped when the basket was 100 feet above the ground and landed in a soft, bushy swamp. Both his legs were broken. Barca was killed by the lightning bolt.
The United States Navy balloon A-6699 has landed at Putten, Holland, near the Zuyder Zee. Lieuts. Lawrence and Reicheldorfer, composing her crew, are safe.
G Blanchet, piloting the Fernando III, a French entry, landed safely near Antwerp at 8:20 o'clock last night.
The balloon Fernandez Duro, Spanish entry, landed at Bahryck, Holland last night. The crew is safe.
The crew of the French balloon Savoie, which came down near Turnhout, Belgium had a thrilling experience. Seeing the thunderstorm coming, they dropped six hundred pounds of ballast in three minutes. The balloon shot to such an altitude that they missed the thunderstorm, but encountered a snow storm, and the snow soon weighted the balloon that it descended rapidly.
The members of the crew when within 1,300 feet of the ground, took to the rigging and narrowly escaped being thrown from their perches when the craft bumped heavily three times before it finally settled.
The balloon Banshee, 3rd British entry, landed with the Zurich.
The Savoie, French balloon, landed near Turnhout, Belgium, at 7 o'clock last night, its crew reporting all well.
The balloon Prince Leopold, a Belgian entry, met with a mishap shortly after the start when she was beaten down by the rain squall and fouled some chimneys in Woluwe. Pilot Veenstra was obliged to dump the entire ballast, including the scientific instruments, before the balloon again ascended. It came down at Veenatra and reported all well.
Sept 26, 1923
BELGICA WINS BALLOON RACE - Traveled About 600 Miles and Landed in Sweden - ALL ENTRIES ACCOUNTED FOR - Prince Leopold, Last to Report, Also Comes Down in Sweden. BRUSSELS, September 25, 1923 (Associated Press) The last balloon competing for the Gordon Bennett cup, the Belgian entry Prince Leopold, piloted by Veenstra and Lieut. Querson, had been accounted for.
The Prince Leopold landed at Mellerud, on Lake Vener, in Sweden. The distance traveled by the balloon was less than that covered by DeMuyter in the Belgica, and Demuyter accordingly is the winner of the cup.
DeMuyter landed in the center of Sweden, a distance of about 600 miles.
DeMuyter's distance last year, when he won the trophy, was 875 miles, and his time then was 25 hours, as compared with 21 hours this year.
The race so far as known has caused the death of five pilots or aids, the grave injury of one and less serious injuries to four others, the destruction of several of the balloons and the fall of two of them into the sea - all of which may lead to the race rules being changed for future contests.
A telephone message from Amsterdam reports that Major Baldwin, piloting the British balloon Banshee III, and his aid, Capt. Dunville, were badly injured in making a landing at Eersel, Holland, Sunday evening. The basket of the balloon caught on the roof of a building, throwing the occupants to the ground.
The Spanish balloon Espheria, landed Sunday night at Woldendorp, Province of Groningen. Gullen and Delalieby, the aeronauts, were injured in landing when the balloon touched a live electric wire.
The Swiss balloon Helvetia has landed in Northern Schleswig, near the Danish frontier. The Helvetia, piloted by Armbruster, so far leads in distance covered - about 330 miles.
The French balloon Picardy, piloted by Bienaime, has landed near Osnabruck, in Hanover. The British balloon Margaret, which fell into the sea near Skagen, Denmark, will be disqualified in conformity with the rule forbidding the contestants to alight on the sea. Pilots Allen and Berry, in the Margaret's car, were saved.
The bodies of Lieuts. Robert S. Olmsted and John W. Shoptaw, the two American army officers who were killed in the wreck of the balloon S-6, have been given into the possession of the American Ambassador at the Hague, who will take charge of sending them direct to the United States from a Dutch port.
Belgium Again Wins Gordon Bennett Race [Aviation, October 8, 1923]
Lieut. E. DeMuyter Repeats Victory of Last Year in Most Tragic Balloon Race Ever Held
The 12th International James Gordon Bennett Cup was won again this year by Lieut. E. DeMuyter of the Belgium team in the balloon “Belgica,” with an unofficial distance of 600 miles. The “Belgica” landed at an unidentified point in the middle of Sweden after remaining in the air for 21 hours.
These provisional ratings have been announced by the Contest Committee:
“Belgica” of Belgium (DeMuyter and Denoncin), 1,174 km.
“Prince Leopold” of Belgium (Veenstra and Quersin), 950 km.
“Helvetia” of Switzerland (Armbruster and Dr Bachman), 550 km.
“Espheria” of Spain (lieutenants Guillen and Tato), 525 km.
“Picardie” of France (Bienaime and Pavaine), 280 km.
United States Navy “A6699” (Lawrence and Reichelderfer), 180 km.
“Margaret” of England (E. Allen and Captain Berry), traveled 900 km. but was disqualified. It fell into the sea.
Seventeen balloons, representing six countries, were lined up on the plain of Solbosch, outside of Brussels, for the race, which began at 4 PM, Sunday, September 23. Severe gales, heavy rains, and electric storms made the conditions the worst ever experienced in a Gordon Bennett race. These conditions were directly responsible for a heavy toll in lives of contestants, serious injuries to others and the destruction of or damage to a least six balloons. Three pilots and two aides were killed and two pilots and three aides were seriously injured, the deaths including the members of the American Army team, Lieuts. Robert S Olmstead, Pilot, and John W. Shoptaw, aide.
The casualty list is as follows: United States Army “S6,” struck by lightning and burned; Lieutenants Olmstead and Shoptaw killed.
The Spanish balloon “Polar” caught fire from a lightning bolt and fell near Heyst-Goorl Pilot Penaranda Baroa killed and his assistant, Gomez Guillamon, badly injured.
Spanish balloon “Espheria,” both pilot M. Guillen and aide Delalieuy injured by striking live wire while landing and Woldendorp, Holland.
The “Geneva,” Swiss, struck by lightning near Beverloo and burned in midair. Her pilot, Lieutenant von Gruningen and aide, Lieutenant Wehren, killed.
“Ville de Bruxelles,” Belgian, damaged before the start and withdrawn.
”Banshee III,” British; Major Baldwin, pilot and Captain Dunville, aide, injured in landing at Eersel, Holland, when the basket caught on the roof of a building.
“Margaret,” British, fell into the sea near Skagen, Denmark. Pilots Allen and Berry saved.
“St. Louis,” American, burst before start.
A torrential rain fell as the bags were being filled. At noon conditions were so unfavorable that only the precise texts of the rules governing the race prevented a postponement. At this time a steady fresh breeze was blowing from the west, between 25 and 30 mi./hr., at times veering to southwesterly, but within half an hour after the last balloon cast off a terrific storm, which lasted until 10 PM was raging at Brussels, and over northern Belgium, Holland and North Sea waters.
Some Experiences of the Crews
Gomez Guillamon who was injured at the time Baroa was killed in the “Polar” was able to tell the story of the accident in the Malines Hospital. He said the “polar” was struck by lightning while at an altitude of 3,500 feet. It had only a few seconds previously escaped crashing to the ground. Penaranda Baroa, the pilot threw two bags of sand overboard and the balloon shot up into the teeth of the storm.
Then came the lightning bolt, which set the bag on fire. It burned speedily, with the exception of the upper part, which was of slower combustion and acted as a parachute. Guillamon jumped when the basket was a hundred feet above the ground and landed in a soft bushy swamp. Both his legs were broken. Baroa was killed by the lightning bolt.
The balloon “Prince Leopold,” a Belgian entry, met with a considerable mishap soon after the start. She was beaten down by the rain squall and fouled the chimneys in the industrial suburb of Woluwe. Pilot Veenstra was obliged to dump the entire ballast, including the scientific instruments before the balloon again ascended. Despite this handicap they were able to continue to Millerud, Sweden.
The crew of the French balloon “Savoie,” which came down near Turnhout, Belgium, had a thrilling experience. Seeing the thunderstorm coming, they dropped six hundred pounds of ballast in three minutes. The balloon shot to such an altitude that they missed the thunderstorm, but encountered a snowstorm, and the snow soon weighed the balloon and forced a rapid descent. The members of the crew when within 1300 feet of the ground, took to the rigging and narrowly escaped being thrown from their perches when the craft bumped heavily three times before it finally settled.
Rules Prevented Postponement
The officials of the Brussels Aero Club, appalled by the catastrophe, point out that they had advocated postponement of the race, but found that the rules were absolutely inflexible. They will propose changes to overcome this difficulty if future. Many members, however, favor canceling the competition altogether.
Jules Dubois, who had a miraculous escape when the French balloon, “Savoie” fell mass-like, owing to the snow which collected on it, wants the race in June or July. Others are strongly of the opinion that a more favorable season of the year for the contest would mean less danger to the lives of the contestants.
President Jacobs of the Belgian Aero Club is against changing the regulations so far as concerns postponing the start. The date was chosen, he says, because cyclonic conditions existed which were necessary for distance and desired by the pilots. Anti-cyclonic conditions would give no interesting results. The equinoctial period was chosen because then the ruling winds in Belgium carry the balloons toward Central and Southern Europe, not toward England and the ocean. The James Gordon Bennett Cup, he added, was always competed for at this time of the year.
Captain H. E. Honeywell of the balloon "St Louis" which burst before the start, was greatly affected by the deaths of his fellow aeronauts.
"Cyclonic conditions predicted for Sunday over Ireland indicated the most unfavorable conditions were due from the north for travelers, who were threatened with being caught in a collision between two storms. Given such conditions, the organizers might have postponed the meeting. If the rules do not allow postponement they must be modified, otherwise the pilots will take the matter into their own hands, as we do not intend to amuse people at the cost of our lives.
Late starts should never be given. Otherwise the arrangements on Sunday were perfect, but the atmospheric conditions were the worst in my experience, which includes fifteen races, eight of them being for the James Gordon Bennett Cup, and 564 other trips."
Story of American Entries
Misadventure or tragedy overtook all of the American entries in the Gordon Bennett Race. Lieut. Robert S. Olmstead, pilot, and Lieut. John W. Shoptaw, aide, of the American Army team were killed at Mistelrode, Holland, when their balloon, the “S6,” was struck by lightning.
The balloon “St. Louis,” the only U.S. civilian entry, was unable to stand the strain exerted by its mooring line when struck by half a gale and burst just before the start. H.E. Honeywell, its pilot, whose long experience in balloon racing made him a formidable competitor, took the accident philosophically. “Bad luck,” he said, “and nobody’s fault. The squall put an end to the old St. Louis which I expected to abandon without regret somewhere in the north, for it meant the sacrifice of the balloon if necessary to gain a mile.”
The U.S. Army balloon “S6” was cast off a few minutes after 4 PM, immediately after the first contestants, the French balloon “Picardie” and the Spanish balloon J.F. Duro.” The “S6” rose just as dark clouds screened the sun, creating condensation which was thought to be the cause of the balloon not reaching a safe height immediately. As she drifted in the direction of the Belgian "Ville de Bruxelles," Lieutenant Shoptaw appeared to be unable to drop ballast quickly enough. The basket of the S-6 collided heavily with the Belgian. The S-6 slid along the "Ville de Bruxelles," tearing off part of the covering net, but rose and sailed off as more ballast was dropped. The Belgian balloon was deflated immediately and withdrawn from the race.
The disqualification of the S-6 had just been decided upon by the race committee when news of the disaster to the American balloon reached the Brussels Aero Club. Lieutenants Olmstead and Shoptaw met death in the storm about three hours after the start. The S-6 was caught in the vortex of a southwesterly gale accompanied by heavy rain, about 7 o'clock the evening of September 23, while crossing the Belgian frontier and crashed at Nistelrode, Holland. Reports agree that the balloon was struck by lightning while being forced low over that place by the weight of the downpour. A physician who examined the bodies expressed the opinion that Lieut. Olmstead was killed by the bolt and that Lieut. Shoptaw met death in the crash.
Full military honors were accorded the American lieutenants by the Belgian and Dutch authorities. Lieutenant Robert S Olmstead was born in Sheldon, Vermont July 28, 1886. He entered Tufts College and took a course in civil engineering. Afterward he enlisted in the Army Air Service, receiving training at the Balloon School, Fort Omaha, Nebraska. He was commissioned a second lieutenant January 6, 1918. In 1920 he placed sixth in the international balloon races at Birmingham, Alabama, and won the elimination contest of the July 4 race which began at Indianapolis. About three years ago, Lieutenant Olmstead was an entrant in an air carnival at Bolling Field, jumping from a balloon with a parachute. He was not married.
Lieut. John W. Shoptaw was born at Worthington, Indiana, Mach 28, 1889. He enlisted in the Signal Corps in 1907 and when the Great War began he was commissioned a second lieutenant after graduating from the Balloon School at Fort Omaha. In the Indianapolis elimination balloon race he was aide to Lieutenant Olmstead. Lieutenant Shoptaw was married and had two children. [excerpts from Aviation, October 8, 1923 p438-9]