Crash and death of the Italian aviator Francesco de Pinedo - 1933

From Time magazine 1933:

Observers who watched a middle-aged Italian in blue bedroom slippers, grey sweater, blue serge suit and grey derby hat get into a big Bellanca monoplane at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, early last Saturday morning, felt that they were witnessing something unusual to the point of eccentricity. General Francesco de Pinedo was taking off alone for Bagdad, 6,300 mi. away. The cockpit of his ship, the Santa Lucia, was a museum of gadgets and curious supplies—eight watches, two colored kites, fishing tackle, a stomach pump to draw liquids from six vacuum bottles, a fresh air mask, a siren and water-squirter to wake up the pilot if he dozed. He was going to sit over the oil tank, so that the uncomfortable heat would keep him awake. As he yelled good-by a fanatical gleam was in his eye.

Major J. Nelson Kelly, manager of the field, who with his wife and Pilot George Haldeman followed the plane in an automobile after its start up the runway, said later that he felt sure de Pinedo would stop after his overladen ship, reeling drunkenly under 1,030 gal. of gasoline, veered almost off the concrete as it got up to 80 m.p.h. But the man in the cabin was obsessed. He straightened the Santa Lucia and roared ahead. He lifted the tail. . . .

When a heavy plane's tail is lifted, torque from the propeller or giving it the gun too quickly may slew the ship sideways for an instant, heavily taxing the pilot's skill to keep his course. That apparently happened to de Pinedo, and his skill failed. Not yet going fast enough to rise, his ship slewed sharply, heading straight for the field's administration building where 150 persons stood watching. Then it slewed further as though, foreseeing danger to many, de Pinedo chose disaster for himself alone. The thundering Bellanca crashed through a heavy wire fence, shearing off the landing gear. Its engine still roaring, it plunged on some 25 yd. before flumping on its side. Bright little flames were trickling up to the gas tanks. Watchers could see de Pinedo, who had been pitched through the windshield, writhing on the ground just under the ship's nose. Next second plane & pilot were a towering holocaust.

"He simply forgot what he knew," said his mechanic.

"His pride killed him," said his closest friend, Ugo d'Annunzio (son of Poet Gabriele).

''De Pinedo today is not the same man he was several years ago. He had deteriorated physically and psychologically as the result of an automobile accident in Buenos Aires in May, 1931," said Giornale d'Italia in Rome.

All three verdicts added close to the whole truth. It was eight years since the Marchese de Pinedo, rich, young and brashly daring, was the toast of Italy for his 35,000-mi. flight to Australia, Japan, India and return; six years since his circling of Africa, South America and the U. S. Mussolini made him a General and Chief of Staff for Air under Italo Balbo.

His first major mishap had come at Roosevelt Dam; a bystander's careless match that burned up his ship. Then he came down at sea, had to be towed for seven days into Fayal. Now came worse. Some say it was the House of Savoy, angered because he dared court Princess Giovanna (today Queen of Bulgaria). Some say it was Italo Balbo, jealous of de Pinedo's acclaim. Some say it was because de Pinedo "forgot" about a half-million-lire fund raised for him by Italo-Americans to buy a new plane. Italo's hero was suddenly, drastically demoted, attached ob- scurely to the embassy in Buenos Aires. There he played polo and hunted. He kept his peace with good grace until this year—the year of Balbo's triumphal armada flight—he appeared in New York intent to the point of desperation on flying farther than any man had flown, all alone.

The U.S. Government and the City of New York sponsored an imposing memorial service for Pinedo, with his remains being carried in a solemn procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral, while a squadron of American military planes circled overhead. The coffin was then placed aboard the Italian liner Vulcania and taken back to his homeland for burial with full military honors.