Fred Hutchinson James Delmage Ross Dixy Lee Ray George W. Bush Hazel Wolf Henry M Jackson Warren G. Magnuson Home
Search Encyclopedia
Facebook
Advanced Search
Featured Eassy Sponsor of the Week
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
6815 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donate Subscribe

Shortcuts

Libraries
Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search

Features

Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Everett
Olympia
Seattle
Spokane
Tacoma
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Timeline Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Washington's first airplane fatality occurs at the Meadows Race Track in Georgetown on May 30, 1912.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3318 : Printer-Friendly Format

On May 30, 1912, during a flight exposition, a plane piloted by J. Clifford Turpin (1886-1966) plows into the grandstand at Meadows Race Track, located south of Georgetown along the Duwamish River. One spectator is killed instantly and another dies a day later. Sixteen people are injured, some maimed horribly, in Washington's first fatal airplane crash. The Meadows was the scene of Seattle's first powered flight in 1910, and was paved over to create Boeing Field in 1928.

Trained by the Wright Brothers

Turpin and his flying partner, Phil Parmalee (1887-1912), learned how to fly under the tutelage of the Wright brothers, and since 1910 had traveled across the United States and Canada showcasing the wonders of powered flight. A few days before their arrival in Seattle, the two men performed in Vancouver, British Columbia, and then in Bellingham, where no airplane had ever flown before.

Their exhibitions were similar from city to city. They would both perform spins and rolls, and then Parmalee would carry one of their flight team a few thousand feet into the air, where the man would then do a parachute jump. Turpin and Parmalee would then have a five-mile airplane race, and the show would end with Parmalee taking his biplane as high as it could go, and then descending in a "dip of death" dive.

Both men flew planes that were designed by Parmalee in Los Angeles. These planes were more advanced than the ones they trained on with the Wright brothers, and were built for faster flight and greater maneuverability. Unlike the Wright brothers' planes, which had the propeller mounted in the rear, Parmalee's design had the propeller up front, powered by a much stronger motor.

A Fool Rushes In

On May 30, a huge crowd gathered at the Meadows Race Track to see amazing flights of derring-do. At around 2:30, Turpin's plane was wheeled down the race track, 200 yards east of the grandstand. The crowd cheered. The show was about to begin.

Parmalee and the mechanics tinkered with the engine a bit after it was fired up, and then gave Turpin the signal to take off. The biplane headed down the track toward the grandstand, where it was supposed to take flight right in front of the audience. But then, everything went wrong.

Just as the plane had covered half the distance toward the stands, a cameraman rushed out onto the track to snap a photo. Foolishly, he stood directly in the path of the oncoming plane. Turpin, who had not reached the speed needed to put the plane into flight, tried to raise the craft anyway in order not to hit the photographer.  The underpowered biplane barely cleared the man's head but then veered to the left and headed directly toward the grandstand.

Pandemonium

The spectators had almost no time to react as the plane bore down upon them. The left wing of the flying machine hit an iron pipe in front of the judge's stand, pivoting it further into the crowd. It hit hard, knocking people in every direction. The plane's whirling propeller chewed through the crowd before grinding to a halt.

George Quinby (1884-1912), one of the spectators standing right where the plane hit, was thrown back by the force of the crash. He died almost instantly, but his body wasn't identified until later that evening. The propeller had torn off most of his face.

Twelve-year-old Raymond Chapman (1900-1912) had been standing in front of the grandstand with his father when the plane hit. They had tried to run away when the saw the plane bearing down on them, but the iron pipe struck by the plane's wing collapsed and hit young Chapman in the head, fracturing his skull. The boy died the next day.

Seventeen people were injured by the accident, some of them grievously, with fractured arms, legs, and hands. Mrs. Edwin R. Lang (1862-?) had her hand crushed so badly it later had to be amputated. Other victims suffered deep gashes. A severed nose was seen lying in the blood-stained grass, as was a finger.

Grim Aftermath

Turpin was pulled from the wreckage of his plane, alive but with his face badly crushed. The crowd helped move the injured into automobiles for quick transport to the county hospital in Georgetown.  An unknown number of people suffering only minor cuts and bruises just wandered off and headed home under their own volition.

The crowd that remained was not without the morbidly curious. No sooner had the injured been tended to, when some people descended upon the plane wreckage to scavenge for souvenirs. After they started grabbing pieces of the propeller or other parts of the plane, a guard was brought over to keep the curio-hunters at bay.

Because a large number of people were still milling around, management at the Meadows decided to continue the air show as a way of breaking the gloom. Phil Parmalee addressed the crowd through a megaphone and asked if they wanted to see him make a flight. They cheered him on and he took to the air.

Parmalee did a few stunts and maneuvers, but when he came back down for a landing, the plane hit rather hard and bounced 25 feet before rolling to a stop. Parmalee again spoke to the crowd, asking if they wanted to see the parachutist make his jump. This time, most of the crowd shouted, "No!" and the show came to an end.

Death of His Friends

That evening, Clifford Turpin spoke to reporters from his hospital bed, and described the accident from his perspective. He only caught a glimpse of the photographer who ran out in front of his plane and caused the accident. When Turpin was told that spectators had been killed, he replied sadly, "The only thing I wish is that I had been killed myself" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 31, 1912). Unbeknownst to Turpin, one of his mentors, Wilbur Wright (1867-1912), had also died that day in Dayton, Ohio, after suffering a bout of typhoid fever.

While Turpin recovered in the hospital, Phil Parmalee traveled to Yakima to participate in another air show. During the exhibition on June 1, a gust of wind caused Parmalee's plane to crash, killing him instantly.

Upon hearing the news of his partner's death, Turpin vowed to never fly again.

Sources:
"New Airplanes of Birdmen Make Good," The Seattle Times, May 26, 1912, p. 17; "Airplane Mows Through Crowd Watching Flight and Maims Spectators," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 31, 1912, pp. 1, 5; "Turpin Takes a Chance and His Machine Kills," The Seattle Times, May 31, 1912, pp. 1, 2; "Man Whose Boy Was Seriously Hurt Tells of his Narrow Escape," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 31, 1912, p. 5; "Another Victim of Aviation Accident Dies of Injuries," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 1912, p. 4; "Coroner's Jury Puts Blame on Man Who Ran Before Turpin," The Seattle Times, June 1, 1912, p. 1; "Boy Struck by Aviator Dies of His Injuries," The Seattle Times, June 1, 1912, p. 5; "Death Angel Claims Life of Birdman as He Mounts Into the Air," The Seattle Times, June 2, 1912, p. 1; "Turpin Declares He Is through with Aeroplanes Forever," The Seattle Times, June 2, 1912, p. 1.
Note: This essay replaces a previous essay on the same subject.


Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Related Topics: Seattle Neighborhoods | Aviation | Firsts | Calamities |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You


This essay made possible by:
King County
The SCHOONER Project:
The Hon. Jan Drago
Seattle City Council
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods


A view of the Turpin's airplane veering towards the grandstand, Meadows Race Track, Georgetown, 1912
Courtesy The Seattle Times


Turpin's airplane moments before it crashed into the grandstand, Meadows Race Track, Georgetown, May 30, 1912
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Grandstand of The Meadows Race Track, Georgetown, ca. 1909
Courtesy MOHAI


 
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search

HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM)
HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org