Sunday, May 22, 2011

French War Minister Killed in Airplane Accident

An airplane race from Paris to Madrid got off to a tragic start as one of the monoplane of one of the racers, Traine, killed the French War Minister, Henri Maurice Berteaux, and seriously injured the French Premier, Antoine Ernest Monis.

The day started well enough with 50,000 Frenchmen enjoying a holiday morning at the drill grounds of the Issy les Moulineaux. Naval lieutenant Andre Beaumont took off first in his Bleriot aeroplane followed by Roland Garros and Gilbert in a similar machines. Next up was the new aviator, Traine with his passenger Bonnier, who began by circling his machine around to test the motor. However, the crush of the spectators was too great for the cavalrymen there to control the crowds and the VIP section was pushed into the path of Traine's plane. The VIPs apparently had a poor view from the stand of honor and moved closer to the starting line, at which point the rest of the crowd followed. Traine tried to hop his plane over the horsemen before continuing his takeoff, but he failed to see the crowd on the other side of the cavalrymen. It was at this point that the War Minister's arm was caught in the plane's propeller and he was further maimed by it. He was dead almost instantly.

The prime minister was crushed underneath the plane with both bones in his right leg and all the bones in his nose broken. He also suffered a number of abdominal and head injuries. He is not expected to survive his injuries, but he was able to sign several urgent state papers from his home where he is recuperating. Neither Train nor his passenger were injured in the accident. Afterward, Train told the Washington Herald correspondent:
Seeing the soldiers, I made an effort to turn to the right. The motor was too weak, and I therefore raised the aeroplane in an effort to land beyond the cuirassiers. At the same moment a group of ministers and officials that had been hidden from me by the cavalry seemed to scatter in all directions. I risked my own and my passenger's life in an attempt to prolong the flight over the crowd, and was just about to succeed in clearing them when the machine fell heavily. I jumped out and only then discovered the terrible catastrophe.
The race was initially called off after the accident but Premier Monis has ordered that it continue. The Aero Club of France which is sponsoring the race along with Petit Parisien is now expected to go with the cabinet and Monis' decision to continue the race with the other participants starting out today.  These include Werman, Nieuporr, and Jules Vedrines.  Of the racers who did get off the ground yesterday, Garros traveled 250 miles to reach Angouleme, Beaumont's plane was damaged after landing near Loches to get directions, and Gilbert reached Pont Levoy and is hoping to continue today.  Deranzay reach Sancorre.

This is not the first Paris-Madrid Race to be marred by tragedy. An auto race in 1909 resulted in so many deaths before the racers reached Bordeaux that the race was called off.

Aviation experts in France now argue that this accident provides proof that the monoplane has seen its best days. One of these experts, Laffrete, believes that the biplane offers more stability and better control than the monoplane in the crash.

The accident has put a damper on plans for the upcoming state visit by King Peter of Servia, who is expected to arrive today. Decorations at the War Ministry, where the King will be staying, have been removed as Berteaux lies in state. Paris is the only European capital to offer the King royal honors thanks to his participation in the French Foreign Legion during the Franco-Prussian War. Festivities in honor of his arrival have been called off.  However, King Peter is likely to delay his French visit and has already offered his condolences to French President Fallieres.

Link: Aeroplane Kills Minister of War, Injures Others [The Washington Herald]

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