(photo: "The Spirit of St. Louis" by Charles A. Lindbergh)
By Charles A. Lindbergh
( from AERONAUTIC REVIEW magazine November 1926 )
I took off from Lambert-St. Louis Field at 4:20p.m. November 3, arrived at Springfield, Ill. at 5:15, and after a five-minute stop for mail took the air again and headed for Peoria.
The ceiling at Springfield was about 500 feet, and the weather report from Peoria, which was telephoned to St. Louis earlier in the afternoon, gave the flying conditions as entirely passable.
I encountered darkness about 25 miles north of Springfield. The ceiling had lowered to around 500 feet and a light snow was falling. At South Pekin the forward visibility of ground lights from a 150-foot altitude was less than one-half mile, and over Pekin the town lights were indistinct from 200 feet above. After passing Pekin, I flew at an altimeter reading of 600 feet for about five minutes, when the lightness of the haze below indicated that I was over Peoria. Twice I could see lights on the ground and descended to less than 200 feet before they disappeared from view. I tried to bank around one group of lights, but was unable to turn quickly enough to keep them in sight.
Had to Turn Back
Enough gasoline for about one hour and 10 minutes flying remained in the main tank and 20 minutes in the reserve. This was hardly enough to return to St. Louis even had I been able to navigate directly to the field by dead reckoning and flying blind the greater portion of the way. The only lights along our route at present are on the field at Peoria, consequently, unless I could pick up a beacon on the transcontinental route, my only alternative would be to drop the parachute flare and land by its light, together with what little assistance the wing lights would be in the snow and rain. The territory towards Chicago was much more favorable for a night landing than that around St. Louis.
Parachute Flare Fails
When about 10 minutes' gas remained in the pressure tank and still I could not see the faintest outline of any object on the ground, I decided to leave the ship rather than attempt to land blindly. I turned back southwest towards less populated country and started climbing in an attempt to get over the clouds before jumping.
Tanks Go Dry
I pulled the rip cord immediately after clearing the stabilizer. The Irving chute functioned perfectly. I had left the ship head first and was falling in this position when the risers whipped me around into an upright position and the chute opened.
The last I saw or heard of the D. H. was as it disappeared into the clouds just after my chute opened. I placed the rip cord in my pocket and took out my flashlight. It was snowing and very cold. For the first minute or so the parachute descended smoothly, then commenced an excessive oscillation which continued for about five minutes and which I was unable to check.
Lands on Barbed Wire Fence
The fence helped to break my fall and the barbs did not penetrate the heavy flying suit. The chute was blown over the fence and was held open for some time by the gusts of wind before collapsing. I rolled it up into its pack and started towards the nearest light. Soon I came to a road, which I followed about a mile to the town of Covell, Ill., where I telephoned a report to St. Louis and endeavored to obtain some news of where the ship had landed. The only information that I could obtain was from one of a group of farmers in the general store, a Mr. Thompson, who stated that his neighbor had heard the plane crash, but could only guess at its general direction.
I rode with Mr. Thompson to his farm and, after leaving the parachute in his house, we canvassed the neighbors for any information concerning the plane. After searching for over an hour without result, I left instructions to place a guard over the mail in case it was found before I returned and went to Chicago for another ship.
On arriving over Covell the next morning I found the wreck, with a small crowd gathered around it, less than 500 feet back of the house where I had left the parachute. The nose and wheels had struck the ground at about the same time, and after sliding along for about 75 feet it had piled up in a pasture beside a hedge fence. One wheel had come off and was standing inflated against the wall on the inside of a hog house a hundred yards farther on. It had gone through two fences and the wall of the house. The wings were badly splintered, but the tubular fuselage, though badly bent in places, had held its general form even in the mailpit. The parachute from the flare was hanging on the tailskid.
There were three sacks of mail in the plane. One, a full bag, from St. Louis, had been split open and some of the mail oil soaked, but legible. The other two were only partially full and were undamaged. I delivered the mail to Maywood by plane, to be dispatched on the next ships out.