Disasters · Virginia

First airplane cash fatality

September 17, 1908
Fort Myer, Virginia
Thomas Selfridge, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, becomes the first airplane fatality at the age of 26

Orville Wright had taken Lt. Selfridge on a flight in the Wright Flyer and had successfully made four circuits today around Fort Myer. Halfway through the fifth circuit, the aircraft’s right propeller broke, causing a nosedive which Orville was somewhat able to correct, gliding the Flyer approximately 75 feet, though the craft hit the ground nose-first, sending both occupants hurling from the vehicle.


Lt. Selfridge (left) with Alexander Graham Bell. Lt. Selfridge had previously flown in a heavier-than-air craft of Bell’s design

Lt. Selfridge struck a wooden upright which fractured the base of his skull. He underwent neurosurgery but was unable to pull through. He died three hours after the accident, never regaining consciousness after the crash.

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