The First Person To Die In a Plane Crash

On September 17, 1908, Orville Wright visited Fort Myer, Virginia, to demonstrate the Wright Military Flyer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps division. Thomas Selfridge, who was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, volunteered to be Wright’s passenger. The Flyer was carrying more weight than it had ever done before, with the combined weight of the two men being at around 320 pounds. The Flyer circled Fort Myer four times at a height of 150 feet. Halfway through the fifth trip, the right-hand propeller broke, causing the plane to lose thrust. This set up a vibration that caused the split propeller to hit a guy-wire bracing the rear vertical rudder. The wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the propeller, sending the Flyer into a nose-dive. Wright shut off the engine and managed to glide about 75 feet, but the aircraft hit the ground nose-first. Both men were thrown forward against the remaining wires and Selfridge struck one of the wooden uprights of the framework, fracturing the base of his skull. He underwent neurosurgery, but died three hours later without regaining consciousness. Wright suffered severe injuries, including a broken left thigh, several broken ribs, and a damaged hip, and was hospitalized for seven weeks. Selfridge was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.