|The Peruvian Jorge Chávez was
the first person to fly across the
Alps on September 9, 1910.
The aircraft he used was a Blériot.
The February Outdoor America
Edited by Caspar Whitney, 1911
of the Air
by John Warth
The most daring feat in all aviation was, undoubtedly, the passage of the Alps by George Chavez last September. Foolhardy as this flight was, there was a certain magnificence in the boldness of its conception that staggers the imagination. At least, it was splendid folly. A mere boy was Chavez, born in Paris of Peruvian parents twenty-three years ago. He had come rapidly to the fore in the aviation world, beginning with an altitude climb of 5,405 feet at Blackpool, England, last August, and following this up by gaining a worlds record of 409 feet at Issy, France, on September 8. He was of the type of airmen who, like Moisant and Johnstone for other examples, take to the air naturally, almost as a matter of instinct.
The Aero Club of Italy had offered a prize amounting to $20,000 for a flight over the Simplon Pass from Brigue to Milan, a matter of seventy-five miles. The proposal was hailed as preposterous by many aviators, and the response was small. Young Chavez was almost the only flier of notable skill who resolved to risk the attempt. The aviation field was laid out in the smiling valley of the Rhone two miles from the village of Brigue, where the railroad used to end, and where the stream of tourists yet descends for a night before setting forth by diligence or carriage along the famous pass.
Treacherous winds and thick weather delayed the attempt for many days, and the flight became a joke in the aviation world. But to young Chavez it was the one aim in life. On September 19 he made his first considerable start and reached an altitude of 7, 546 feet, but discovering that the summit of the pass was shrouded in heavy clouds, he returned to Brigue. Then on Friday, September 23, he made his dash. The valley of the Rhone was bathed in sunshine and freshly fallen snow glistened on the peaks in the clear air. There was little breeze stirring in the shelter of the mountains and the despatches brought news of similar weather on the Italian side of the pass. "Whatever happens, I shall be found on the other side of the Alps," said Chavez as he climbed into his machine. He left the meadow near Brigue at 1:30 p.m. and wound his way slowly upward in spirals, ever widening his circle as the valley broadened in his upward flight. Here, indeed, lay one of the grave difficulties of the venture; for high peaks rose close about and the birdman was forced to ascend several thousand feet before he could fairly commence his passage of the Alps. Then, when the little monoplane (a Blériot) was no more than a speck to the watchers below, it slid swiftly to the south and presently vanished in the distance. For twenty miles thereafter Chavez steered a winding course over glaciers, gorges, snow-capped peaks, and range on range of mountains. To land anywhere would have meant almost certain death. He flew high, and it was not till the swiftly rising pass reared its highest barrier, 6,590 feet above sea-level, that he came within easy sight of the many watchers along the route. There, at the Simplon Kulm, a great crowd had gathered, tourists and the Augustine monks of the Hospice. And at 1:48 p.m. Chavez passes over the height. He was perhaps a thousand feet above the heads of the watchers, but they could see plainly how he was battling with the icy gusts. Here was one the most difficult stretches. The peaks of Monte Leone (11,600 feet) and the Hübschhorn (10,400 feet) rose well above the aviator, and tricky winds and currents drew down from them. Chavez was forced to tack and several times dropped sharply. Thenceforward his task was to follow the winding and narrow Gorge of Gondo and swoop sharply downward to Domo dOssola, only 890 feet above sea-level. What went wrong will never be known: but at 2:19 p.m., when about to make a landing and when within thirty feet of safety, the machine suddenly collapsed and Chavez fell, receiving fatal injuries. To some it looked as if a gust of wind had overturned the aeroplane: to others the wings simply crumpled up as if overstrained by the swift volplaning. At any rate, Chavez never spoke again and died four days later-- on the Italian side of the Alps.
montage depicts Jorge Chávezs historical flight.
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