Fatal Crash

Just five years after their successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright had begun demonstrating their Wright Flyers in both the United States and Europe.  Today we shine a spotlight on a photograph taken during one of the darkest days of the brothers’ testing.

Wright Brothers Crash
Bystanders help extricate the mortally wounded US Army (USA) Lieutenant (LT) Thomas Selfridge from the wreck of the Wright Brothers Flyer after its crash at Fort Myer, Virginia (VA). At right, several men attend the injuries of Orville Wright, who lies on the ground at their feet, 9/17/1908. From the Records of the Department of Defense. National Archives Identifier: 6641476

While Wilbur was in Europe negotiating contracts with the French, Orville made the trip to Fort Myer, Virginia, to demonstrate the flying machine to the United States military.  On September 17, 1908, Orville and passenger Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge took to the skies.  The flyer had made three uneventful passes over the field before disaster struck.  A propeller disconnected from the machine, and with Orville unable to regain control, the Wright Flyer crashed.

In the picture, bystanders pull Lieutenant Selfridge and Orville away from the wreckage.  The Wright brother, though severely injured, survived the accident.   Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge never regained consciousness; he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and is noted as being the first powered aircraft fatality.

You can find this photograph and use it to create a teaching activity on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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