Weather problems forced Charles Lindbergh to parachute from his DH-4 on September 16, 1926
Leap Fog At Night
By Charles A. Lindbergh

( from AERONAUTIC REVIEW magazine October 1926 )

Here is a matter-of-fact account by Pilot Lindbergh who jumped from his St. Louis-Chicago air mail plane, when lost in the fog, with fuel exhausted. The pilotless plane starts up again and heads for the mail carrier in the dark. And they say airway flying is commonplace.

I took off from Lambert-St. Louis Field at 4:25p.m. September 16, and after an uneventful trip arrived at Springfield, Ill. at 5:10p.m., and Peoria, Ill. at 5:55p.m.

Off the Peoria Field at 6:15p.m. There was a light ground haze, but the sky was practically clear with but scattered cumulous clouds.

Darkness was encountered about 25 miles northeast of Peoria, and I took up a compass course, checking on the lights of the towns below until a low fog rolled in a few miles northeast of Marseilles and the Illinois River.

The fog extended from the ground up to about 600 feet, and, as I was unable to fly under it, I turned back and attempted to drop a flare and land. The flare did not function and I again headed for Maywood (Chicago's air mail port), hoping to find a break in the fog over the field.

Examination disclosed that the cause of the flare failure was the short length of the release lever and that the flare might still be used by pulling out the release cable.

I continued on a compass course of 50 degrees until 7:15p.m., when I saw a dull glow on the top of the fog, indicating a town below. There were several of these light patches on the fog, visible only when looking away from the moon, and I knew them to be the towns bordering Maywood. At no time, however, was I able to locate the exact position of the field, although I understand that the searchlights were directed upward and two barrels of gasoline burned in an endeavor to attract my attention.

Several times I descended to the top of the fog, which was 800 to 900 feet high, according to my altimeter. The sky above was clear with the exception of scattered clouds, and the moon and stars were shining bright.

After circling around for 35 minutes I headed west to be sure of clearing Lake Michigan, and in an attempt to pick up one of the lights on the Transcontinental [a system of navigational light beacons along airways predating radio beacons].

After flying west for 15 minutes and seeing no break I turned southwest hoping to strike the edge of the fog south of the Illinois River.

Fuel Exhausted
My engine quit at 8:20p.m., and I cut in the reserve. I was at that time only 1,500 feet high, and as the engine did not pick up as soon as I expected I shoved the flashlight in my belt and was about to release the parachute flare and jump when the engine finally took hold again. A second trial showed the main tank to be dry and accordingly a maximum of 20 minutes' flying time left.

There were no openings in the fog and I decided to leave the ship as soon as the reserve tank was exhausted. I tried to get the mail pit open with the idea of throwing out the mail sacks, and then jumping, but was unable to open the front buckle.

I knew that the risk of fire with no gasoline in the tanks was very slight and began to climb for altitude when I saw a light on the ground for several seconds. This was the first light I had seen for nearly two hours, and as almost enough gasoline for 15 minutes flying remained in the reserve, I glided down to 1,200 feet and pulled out the flare release cable as nearly as I could judge over the spot where the light had appeared.

This time the flare functioned but only to illuminate the top of a solid bank of fog, into which it soon disappeared without showing any trace of the ground.

Over the Side
Seven minutes' gasoline remained in the gravity tank. Seeing the glow of a town through the fog I turned towards open country and nosed the plane up. At 5,000 feet the engine sputtered and died. I stepped up on the cowling and out over the right side of the cockpit, pulling the ripcord after about a 100-foot fall. The parachute, an Irvin seat service type, functioned perfectly; I was falling head downward when the risers jerked me into an upright position and the 'chute opened. I saved the rip cord.

Plane Runs Wild
I pulled the flashlight from my belt and was playing it down towards the top of the fog when I heard the plane's engine pick up. When I jumped it had practically stopped dead and I had neglected to cut the switches. Apparently when the ship nosed down an additional supply of gasoline drained to the carburetor. Soon she came into sight, about a quarter mile away and headed in the general direction of my parachute.

I put the flashlight in a pocket of my flying suit preparatory to slipping the parachute out of the way, if necessary. The plane was making a left spiral of about a mile diameter, and passed approximately 300 yards away from my 'chute, leaving me on the outside of the circle.

I was undecided as to whether the plane or I was descending the more rapidly and glided my 'chute away from the spiral path of the ship as rapidly as I could.

The ship passed completely out of sight, but reappeared again in a few seconds, its rate of descent being about the same as that of the parachute. I counted five spirals, each one a little further away than the last, before reaching the top of the fog bank.

'Chuting Into the Fog
When I settled into the fog I knew that the ground was within 1,000 feet and reached for the flashlight, but found it to be missing. I could see neither earth nor stars and had no idea what kind of territory was below. I crossed my legs to keep from straddling a branch or wire, guarded my face with my hands and waited.

Presently I saw the outline of the ground and a moment later was down in a cornfield. The corn was over my head and the 'chute was lying on top of the cornstalks. I hurriedly packed it and started down a corn row. The ground visibility was about 100 yards.

In a few minutes I came to a stubble field and some wagon tracks which I followed to a farmyard a quarter mile away. After reaching the farmyard I noticed auto headlights and a spotlight playing over the roadside. Thinking that someone might have located the wreck of the plane I walked over to the car.

The occupants asked whether I had heard an airplane crash and it required some time to explain to them that I had been piloting the plane, and yet was searching for it myself. I had to display the parachute as evidence before they were thoroughly convinced. The farmer was sure, as were most others in a three-mile radius, that the ship had just missed his house and crashed nearby. In fact, he could locate within a few rods the spot where he heard it hit the ground, and we spent an unsuccessful quarter hour hunting for the wreck in that vicinity before going to the farmhouse to arrange for a searching party and to telephone St. Louis and Chicago.

I had just put in the long distance calls when the phone rang and we were notified that the plane had been found in a cornfield over two miles away.

It took several minutes to reach the site of the crash due to the necessity of slow driving through the fog, and a small crowd had already assembled when we arrived.

The plane was wound up in a ball-shaped mass. It had narrowly missed one farmhouse and had hooked its left wing in a grain shock a quarter mile beyond. The ship had landed on the left wing and wheel and skidded along the ground for 80 yards, going through one fence before coming to rest in the edge of a cornfield about 100 yards short of a barn. The mail pit was laid open and one sack of mail was on the ground. The mail, however, was uninjured.

The sheriff from Ottawa arrived, and we took the mail to the Ottawa post office to be entrained at 3:30a.m. for Chicago.


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