The Superior Express -

Plane crashes in Superior

Reprinted from the March 27, 1930 issue of The Superior Express

 

March 26, 2020

Pilot August Wahlen

Superior's first real airplane tragedy occurred at 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon when a Lincoln-Page three passenger biplane owned and piloted by August Wahlen of Edgar and carrying three Superior passengers, developed motor trouble in the air and crashed into south Converse Street fatally injuring the pilot and rendering various injuries to the passengers, the exact extents of which are not, as yet, fully ascertainable.

Wahlen, twenty-five years old, son of Alfred Wahlen, living four miles north of Edgar and maintaining a produce business in town has been interested in aviation for some three years, most of that time as a licensed pilot. The present plane was the second he had owned, the first having been broken up in a crash at Franklin last year. In company with a cousin living in Davenport and a friend who is a student in the flying school at Norfolk, he came to Superior Sunday to take up passengers.

After making several successful trips, he went up shortly before four o'clock with Paul Feidler, employee at the Farmers Union Creamery Company, Fred Bruning, proprietor of a suburban grocery store at Second and Bloom streets and Fred Jr., Bruning's four year old son. "Freddie" had told his mother that he would wave at her when they passed over the store, as they hoped to do, and when they got into the plane, Bruning asked Wahlen if it would be possible to fly rather low over the store to enable the boy to carry out his wish. This Wahlen consented to do and the plane flew low over the store, proceeding in a southeasterly direction. The pilot then "banked" to turn back toward the field and almost immediately thereafter the motor started missing and the pilot called up that something was wrong and that they were falling.

Father-like, Bruning's first instinct was for the preservation of his child. He pushed him down into the bottom of the cockpit and locked his legs and arms about him to protect him as much as possible from the perilous descent. Then both he add Feidler braced themselves and awaited the final crash.

Seeing that they were too low to glide out of the limits of the city, Wahlen headed his ship for a clearing between Bloom and Converse streets just south of First Street. That he kept clear headed is evidenced by the fact that he kept the keel of the plane steady, headed straight for the clearing. He overshot it, however, and crashed his left wing into a tree on the back lot of the J.O. Grandy residence, steering the plane to the left and bringing it to rest at the left side of Converse Street just a few feet from the First Street intersection.

It is considered fortunate that the pilot overshot the mark and crashed into the tree as he did, as this undoubtedly played a part in "breaking the fall." Had the plane lit in the enclosure, nose down as it was coming, it is thought likely that the force of the impact would have killed all its occupants.

A great many people had been watching the plane and stood horrified when it commenced its wild fall to the ground. Jewell Crook, Madalene Rhoads' and Harold Sutton were standing before the Rhoads residence on south Converse and were the first to reach the injured. All were conscious but it was evident that all were injured. Wahlen and Feidler heroically urged their rescuers not to "bother with them" but to see that the boy and his father were cared for first. However, all were soon gotten out and rushed to Brodstone Memorial Hospital. The pilot, Wahlen, was suffering from a fractured skull and other severe injuries which were believed, from the first examination would result fatally. Feidler had suffered a broken and badly crushed limb. He also was found to have suffered a brain concussion, which at first was thought to be slight. Bruning senior had had his nose broken and his shoulder ligaments torn. The boy did not appear to have any bones broken or other serious injuries, although he, like the three others, suffered diverse bruises and cuts and a bad shaking up.

The plane was practically demolished, its wings being entirely torn off and its fuselage and tail badly shattered. Crowds gathered about it all Sunday evening but the debris was removed in the late evening and brought to Edgar.

At the hospital, Wahlen's condition grew steadily worse and he died about 11 o'clock Sunday evening. Feidler seemed to be improving nicely until Tuesday, when he began to suffer more intensely from the brain concussion and symptoms of a cerebral hemorrhage appeared. As we go to press, he is unconscious and his condition is reported as serious. (He later died.) Bruning and his son seem to be progressing nicely and due for a speedy recovery. "Freddie" was discharged from the hospital Monday and his father Wednesday.

Dr. C.W. Keith of Edgar, medical examiner for the aeronautics branch of the United States Department of Commerce, and Richard H. Lees, government inspector, were in Superior the first part of the week, looking over the scene of the accident, talking to witnesses, and otherwise inspecting the circumstances of the fall. Dr. Keith's statement covering this inspection is as follows:

"The cause of the accident, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was the stalling of the motor, undoubtedly produced by crossed air currents or an air pocket. We got this from the passengers themselves. This threw the plane into a spin and there was not room enough in the first clearing available to be reached in descent. It has been stated by the passengers, and by the government inspector who investigated Tuesday, that unusual skill and ability were used by the pilot to land as safely as possible.

"The passenger commended the pilot very highly in missing the electrical wires and other obstacles, otherwise they might all have been burned up. The switch was found turned off and the wires cut so no explosion could result in the crash which the pilot saw was inevitable. The pilot warned the passengers of trouble and straightened out the plane shortly afterwards, striking two trees about 15 feet from the ground and letting the plane settle in the edge of the street. He was able to issue directions to those who came to their assistance, asking that the passengers be taken out and cared for first, which gave the impression that the pilot himself was not seriously hurt. He was commended very highly for working with the controls and doing everything within his power until the plane lay resting on the ground.

"Mr. Richard H. Lees, inspector for the government, came to investigate the crash and find out the cause, and he held the pilot entirely blameless, finding that the crash was caused by conditions over which no pilot would have had control. In landing, no precaution for himself was taken and he was thrown violently against the instrument board with the result that he received a fracture of the skull and his death came from internal hemorrhages.

"The department regrets very much to lose a pilot so skillful, conscientious and able as August Wahlen."

His funeral was held from the Presbyterian Church at Edgar Wednesday afternoon with Rev. T.S. Hughes, pastor of that church in charge. Burial was made in the Edgar cemetery. Edgar business houses were closed for the funeral and the town and countryside attended en masse, the funeral being one of the largest ever held in Clay County. A plane piloted by Andrew Risser, operator of the air school at Norfolk, where Wahlen received his training and carrying, also, Mr. Simms, operator of the air school at Columbus, and a student flyer from the Norfolk school, flew to Edgar for the funeral. During the services at the church, the plane circled overhead and after the service at the grave, flowers were dropped on it from the air.

Mrs. Bruning and the boy had intended to leave Monday for New York where, Saturday, they expected to embark on the Europa for a trip to Germany to visit relatives. They cancelled their passage immediately after the accident.

A gruesome co-incidence of the accident is that on October 11, 1928, in almost the identical spot where the plane crashed Sunday was hurled the body of Clarence King, a South Sioux City youth, who had come to Superior with Captain Chester Vienot of Omaha to make a balloon ascent during the Superior Fall Festival. Ascending during a lull in a rainy afternoon, King made a perfect parachute opening but fell from the trapeze of the 'chute directly thereafter. A letter found in his effects after the fall, and another sent his sweetheart at home the day before, indicated that the fall had been planned as a spectacular suicide.

Another regrettable accompaniment of the accident is the effect it is having on the airport situation at Superior. A few weeks ago, the Arrow Aircraft and Motors Corporation of Lincoln made the community a proposition whereby an air field of modern type would be provided for the community, a local company to finance and manage the project. The matter had received the endorsement of the Superior Chamber of Commerce and sufficient interest had been demonstrated to indicate that a field would soon have been a reality. However, the regrettable accident has dampened the "air mindedness" of the community and the project will doubtless have a difficult time if it gains success at all.

 

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