Chapter 17 - 1928


Twelve Balloons Start. - DETROIT, Mich., June 30 (AP) [Saturday] –


Carrying the colors of seven nations seeking premier honors in the world's aeronautical classic - the James Gordon Bennett balloon race - twelve balloons were unleashed from their moorings at the Ford Airport late this afternoon. The German bag Munster piloted by Ferdinand Eimermacher was the first to sail away at 4 p.m.

The other eleven followed at intervals of five minutes amid cheers from a great throng of approximately 150,000 persons. Air currents indicated that the bags would take an almost due south course.

Three of the balloons carried the hopes of America to gain permanent possession of the second James Gordon Bennett international trophy, American teams having won the races in 1926 and 1927. Like the United States, Germany had three entries, France had two and the other nations entered were Denmark, Switzerland, Argentina and Belgium.

Following the Munster the other balloons with their pilots left in this order: - [list]

The balloon traveling the greatest distance from Detroit in any direction will be awarded the race.

All twelve of the balloons started off almost due south. C G Andrus, meteorologist at Hadley Field, N.J. said the bags would veer to the east or west after considerable distance had been covered.


Balloons Race Southward for Bennett Trophy - Three American Entries Seek to Win Cup Permanently from Nine Foreign Rivals - Start Made from Detroit - 150,000 Cheer Bags Bearing Colors of Seven Nations - (By The Associated Press) CLEVELAND, June 30 [Saturday]


Scores of watchers saw a balloon which started from Detroit in the James Gordon Bennett international balloon race pass over Cleveland at 11 o'clock to-night. The bag was too high to be identified, but it appeared to be sailing fast.

A stiff northwest breeze which carried the balloon toward the city changed into a west wind as the bag passed overhead, making its course due east.

Firemen in front of their station first sighted it at 10:52 p.m. Crews of three freighters in the Cuyahoga River saw it and set their whistles screaming. -


Three Balloons Forced Down in Bennett Race - Helvetia in West Virginia, American Business Club and Argentina in Virginia. -Nine Remain in Contest - Five Pass Fairmont, W. Va. in Southerly Direction. By the Associated Press - FAIRMONT, W.Va., July 1, 1928 [Sunday]


 The Helvetia, Swiss entry in the Gordon Bennett balloon race, which started from Detroit, Mich., late Saturday, came down eleven miles south of here shortly after noon to-day, having exhausted its gas supply (sic). The pilot, E S Magg (sic) and his aid, Alphonse Coques, packed up the bag and took it to a railroad station at Worthington.

The American Business Club No 2 an American entry piloted by A C Palmer with Lieutenant F M McKee as aide, came down at Stuart's Draft, Va., at 4:05 p.m. to-day, it was reported.

The Helvetia, said by its pilot to have a capacity of 50,000 cubic feet of gas, was one of the smallest bags in the race. It was the first of the twelve starters reported down.

Five other balloons passed over this region to-day. They were the Argentina, the Denmark, either No 5 or 6 Germany and two unidentified bags. All were pushing a course to the south of southwest and all were sighted prior to the noon hour.

The first balloon in the race took off yesterday from Detroit at 4 p.m. and the eleven others followed at five minute intervals. The craft traveling the greatest distance from Detroit will be declared the winner.

Lieutenant L H Scott took the air in his plane in an unsuccessful effort to communicate with the German entry. Scott said the craft was about 10,500 feet high.


Argentina Entry Drops Out


The Argentina balloon in the Gordon Bennett race, landed at Millboro, Va., at 10 o'clock Eastern Standard time to-night. Eduardo Bradley the pilot so advised the correspondent of La Nacion, Buenos Aires newspaper, according to the Associated Press. -


German Balloon Only One Aloft in Bennett Race - Munster Piloted by Veteran Eimermacher, Believed To Be Soaring Over Dixie - Two Bags in Close Finish - Army Entry Lands in Virginia, French in North Carolina - By The Associated Press -DETROIT, July 2 [Monday]


The winner of the 1928 Gordon Bennett international balloon race remained in doubt to-night pending a report from the German bag, Munster, the only balloon not reported landed.

The other eleven bags which started the race from Detroit at 4 p.m. Saturday had been brought safely to earth late to-day closely grouped in sections of Virginia and West Virginia, with one bag crossing over the line into the northern part of North Carolina.

The air line distances covered by the French balloon, Blanchard, which landed at 11 a.m. at Walnut Cove, N.C. and the Unites States Army bag, piloted by Captain W. E. Kepner which landed at 12:20 p.m. near Kenbridge VA and was so close as to make doubtful which one was out in front in the race.


United States May Lose Trophy


These two bags, according to Karl Betts, scorer for the aeronautic classic, traveled the farthest air line distances of any of the eleven balloons down. He expressed belief, on the basis of unofficial calculations, that the Blanchard had beaten the army entry but said it was a close race.

No messages had been picked up from the Munster piloted by the veteran balloonist Ferdinand Eimermacher with Karl Zech as aid, but it was believed to be somewhere over Virginia or the Carolinas. It was the first to take off in the race.

If the army balloon is defeated, permanent possession of the second Gordon Bennett trophy will be lost to the United States. The trophy was won in 1926 and 1927 by American balloonists and a third consecutive victory would give the cup permanently to the United States. The army bag was one of two Countries that remained in the race to-day, the other two having been forced down Sunday.


Five Land on Second Day


The second French entry, the Lafayette, piloted by Georges Blanchet, with Dr G M Legaltee as aid, landed safely at Elk Hill, Va. at 9 a.m. to-day.

Other bags which landed to-day were another German entry, the Barmen, piloted by Hugo Kaulen Jr. with his son as aid, which came down near Chase City, Va. at 10 a.m. and the Danish balloon Denmark, piloted by S A U Rasmussen, which landed at 2 a.m. on a farm one mile northeast of Roanoke, Va.

Balloons which landed Sunday were the Ernest Brandenburg, German entry, piloted by Captain Bertram which landed at Davis W.Va.; the Wallomie, Belgian entry which came down near Beverly W Va.; the Swiss entry, Helvetia down at Fairmont, W.Va., the American Business Club of Akron Ohio, which landed at Stuart's Draft, Va., and the Detroit, which landed at Cass, W.Va.


French Down In Mill Pond - WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. July 2 (AP) –

The French balloon Blanchard, in the Gordon Bennett race, landed in a millpond at Walnut Cove, N.C., eighteen miles north of here in Stokes County at 11 a.m. to-day. Neither the pilot Charles Dollfus, nor his aide, Georges Cromier, was injured. The balloon was saved. -


U. S. Army Bag Wins Bennett Balloon Race - France 2d, Germany 3d, in unofficial Score as All Land But 10 Miles Apart - By The Associated Press - DETROIT, July 3 [Tuesday]


Calculations of air line distances by the National Aeronautical Association in Washington will be awaited to determine the winner of the 1928 James Gordon Bennett international balloon race, it was announced late to-day at race headquarters here.

With all twelve bags which started in the race reportedly safely landed, a recheck of unofficial figures on distances traveled by the three leaders showed that they finished within ten miles of each other, figured on an air line basis from the starting point.

The revised unofficial figures gave the race to the Unites States Army balloon, with the French balloon, Blanchard, second, and the German bag, Barmen, third. The unofficial figures sanctioned by Karl Betts, scorer, were: [list of first 3]

First calculations had given the race to the Blanchard by fifteen miles with the Army balloon second.

If the army balloon is declared the winner by officials of the N.A.A., the Gordon Bennett trophy will come permanently into the possession of the United States, it having been won in 1926 and again in 1927 by American balloonists.

The last of the twelve bags accounted for was the German balloon Munster, reported to-day as having landed at 11 PM Sunday in the top of a dead tree on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, twenty-five miles from Lynchburg. The balloonists - Ferdinand Eimermacher, pilot, and Karl Zeck, aid - reached Lynchburg to-day. They said the balloon was caught in a heavy windstorm and dashed against the side of the mountain. Eimermacher suffered a sprained ankle and a bruised arm and shoulder in a fall from the basket in attempting to reach the ground. –


This is Eimermacher’s colorful account:


We approach the last, still higher mountain range. We count twelve bags left. We can see the plain ahead of us, but are afraid not to reach it anymore. We fly with only 3 kilometres an hour. Little papers, we had thrown overboard indicate the double speed close above the ground. We have to go down to this layer, to finally gain the plain and with the plain the faster winds. We level out the balloon about 30 meters above the treetops. When we come closer to the last range, we recognise how wild and rough these mountains are, which had been considered insurmountable for a long time. Suddenly we are in front of ridge of the mountain. A wall of purple and blue take our sight to the opposite valley. This wall loomed like a heavy, deep black cloud, waving up and down eerily. It reminds me of a big fire, when burning masses of tar and impenetrable black blue smoke makes whole streets impassable. The Lord shall save us from the breakout of this thunderstorm! Stranding here in these mountains might cut us off from the rest of the world for weeks. The balloon stands still, as if it fears the disaster. Finally, after ten long, frightening minutes, it takes up speed again. The dreadful clouds give way and let us pass with a scornful grin. Thanks to the Lord, this cloud monster gives us our freedom, we move down to the hilly plain. As we had hoped, we pick up a speed of about 30 kilometres an hour and with this speed joy is growing again. We count 10 1/2 sandbags; our situation is quite satisfying. One hour later, at 9 p.m., we reach a middle-sized town, Waynesboro in Virginia. The needle of our compass indicates a southbound heading.

This navigation shocks us, for we have to detect, that unfortunately we had not yet reached the desired plain but only a huge valley, about 80 kilometres wide, and then have to fly over the last, but most wild range of the mountains.

The sky shows a more and more threatening face. I guess a disaster. From my last visit to America, I know that Virginia almost always has terrible thunderstorms at night. It is 10 p.m. We come closer to the mountain. The dark, puffed up clouds lay heavily on the peaks. We climb up, break through the enormous masses of clouds, and can see the head of the thunderstorm, ghostly illuminated by the full moon. We descend again. The speed decreases here in the mountains, so we can reach the big plain of Virginia first at 0.30 a.m. to my calculations. Once again it goes up to the pale gloom of the moon, and again down to the pitch darkness.

11 p.m.! My calculation are, that we have to cross just two more ridges. Again I have bad feelings. I watch like a hawk, work with slices of paper and altimeter. Just in the moment we are again in a bedlam. The balloon shakes, paper slices rush upwards, the altimeter climbs to the sky, 3500, 3700, 4000, ...5000 meters. Now there is a jerk. Instinctively I grab the basket ropes. A feeling of dizziness overcomes me. Zech startles up, grabs the ropes and moans: "What are you doing, I become sick!" The basket turns in its ropes. Next to its board, something appears and grabs to me. Before I recognise that it is the handling line, thrown to the level of the basket by a gust of wind, there is again a hard jerk. The basket, lifted in his ropes, swings back to his old position. Zech moans: "Stop it, or I have to vomit." Then he falls back to his sleep like death. Meanwhile, our balloon climbs on.

Now we sit on the head of a gigantic thundercloud. It is evil, could I fix my fur coat better. Uncomfortably my co-pilot crouches in the corner of the basket. The view to the cloud giants that dance around us is incredibly nice but also horrifying. One close by especially stares at us and then pounces on us with all his size to destroy us.

With a whistle we rushed to the deep. I still don't dump any ballast, for the balloon would not respond to my hands in the falling stream. Black clouds surround me. The altimeter indicates a quick fall, the needle can be watched leaping back. With tension I listen to the deep. The horrifying whistle increases, the clouds grab us from below, lift us up and drags us down to the deep, towards the giants of trees. Ballast and one more bag of ballast go overboard, as useless as it is. I believe I have to do something.

The enormous mountain yawns to swallow us. I believe the end of the world has come. We sink into the canyon, where the dry giants of the jungle enclose the rock-walls. I give a kick to my co-pilot, for I have no more time to wake him up by other means and yell, shout at him: "We will get run through!" Zech jumps up, instinctively I throw another bag overboard and we both jump to the opposite corners of the basket, to escape from the deadly thrust. The sharp stab of a 150-feet high giant of the jungle passes close to our bodies. I only get an enormous punch to the left upper arm. I feel no pain, just tumble to the other side of the basket. We experience, how a huge branch pokes into the body of the balloon writhing in pain at the lower hemisphere, slits it open and turns the appendix upwards. On one side below us we can see the fluttering envelope while the basket, breaking the branches, sinks deeper and deeper.

Howling and slapping the storm grabs the wreck and tries to throw it to the deep. As quick as possible we fix the one and only handling line left to the next branch to keep the basket up when a fall comes. It is 11:14 p.m. Frightening seconds pass. Spasmodically the wind hits under the envelope, cuts more and more wounds to it with the sharp branches and finally presses even the gas down to us. We fear to suffocate, when the next gust of wind finally throws the envelope on our heads.

Also, the attacking forces of the still not completely deflated balloon are so big, that the giant tree as a whole grunts and groans and one branch after the other falls down to the deep creaking. To our horror even our last fixed point starts rustling in a frightening manner. I try, to deflate the balloon by ripping off, but it is useless, the envelope has become totally entangled in the trees and is completely deflated by its many wounds. The shreds are fluttering already on the neighbour tree.

We have to leave the basket at once. We agree in all steps. Everything is done with cold blood and objectivity. We cannot recognise, if the released trail rope even reaches the ground of the canyon, but we know it touches the lower trees. So out! The security rope I always have with me, will then hopefully lead us to the ground finally.

As pilot I want to stay in the basket. Zech crawls out with some important tools and disappears to my eyes. It takes a long time, which appears almost infinitive to me, until I can finally hear from below: “I’m down!”

"What kind of ground?" I shout down. "Swampy" – "O.K., then I’ll dump our necessary equipment!" Part after part I let fall down. Approximately 40 minutes have passed, before I finally may also leave our doubtful place up there. With a heavy rucksack full of instruments, camera, binocular a.s.o. on my shoulders it goes down from the dizzy height. – To climb down on a rope for hundred meters is not easy at all, especially for me, with a weight of more than 200 pounds and loaded with a heavy rucksack. Now I also feel the injury of my arm. A stabbing pain forces the sweat out of my skin. The trail rope appears endless, I nearly can’t hold myself any longer. Is it the pain in my arm or appears the response of my comrade, whom I ask, if I’m not already down, too close – I leave the rope. – Then I fall, hit hard on the ground and can’t get back on my feet anymore. Broken leg is my first thought.

So far the report of Ferdinand Eimermacher.