vintage, nostalgia and memories


November 14, 2017

Rare and Historic Photos of the Harriet Quimby's Plane Crash on July 1, 1912

Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) is classified among the most famous American female aviators. Her career as a pilot did not last long but was undeniably heroic. Quimby was the first American lady to become a licensed pilot and the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She was called as “America’s First Lady of the Air.” She was also a movie screenwriter. Even though she died very young, Harriet Quimby played a key influence upon the role of women in aviation.

On July 1, 1912, while flying her new Blériot XI, a two-place, single-engine monoplane, at the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachussetts, Harriet Quimby and her passenger, William A. P. Willard, organizer of the Meet, flew out over the water.

As the pair returned from circling the Boston Light far out in the bay, the sky had turned a dazzling orange. Five thousand spectators watched as the monoplane approached over the tidal flats, strikingly silhouetted against the blazing sky. Without any warning, the plane’s tail suddenly rose sharply, and Willard was pitched from the plane. The two-passenger Blériot was known for having balance problems, and without Willard in the rear seat, the plane became gravely destabilized.

For a moment it seemed that Quimby was regaining control of the plane. But then it canted forward sharply again, and this time Quimby herself was thrown out. The crowd watched in horror as the two plunged a thousand feet to their deaths in the harbor. Ironically, the plane righted itself and landed in the shallow water with minimal damage.

The cause of the accident is unknown and there was much speculation at the time. What is known is that neither Quimby nor Willard were wearing seat belts. Also, the Blériot XI was known to be longitudinally unstable. With the nose pitched down the tail plane created more lift, which caused the nose to pitch down even further.

Harriet Quimby with William Willard, organizer of the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet of 1912. With Willard, as passenger, Quimby circled the Boston Lighthouse as part of the airshow. (Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum's Library and Archives)

On the return flight back the aircraft was at 1000 ft. making its landing descent. Inexplicably, Willard was thrown suddenly from the plane. The aircraft pitched further and Quimby also was ejected. Both died on impact in the shallow waters. The tragedy took place on July 1, 1912. (Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum's Library and Archives)

This appears to sadly be the retrieval of Harriet Quimby's body in Squantum, MA after she and her passenger, William Willard, were thrown out of her Bleriot Monoplane and fell to their deaths during the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet on July 1, 1912. (Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum's Library and Archives)

(Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum's Library and Archives)

(Image: San Diego Air and Space Museum's Library and Archives)

An unidentified man at the left of this photograph is carrying the body of Harriet Quimby. (Photo by Leslie Jones, Boston Herald/Boston Public Library)

The wreck of Harriet Quimby’s Bleriot XI at Squantum, Massachussetts, 1 July 1912.

Massachusetts Standard Certificate of Death, Harriett Quimby.



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