Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
In the early days of aviation, even a small plane crash was big news for The Washington Post -- especially when it happened here and involved one of the Wright brothers. An excerpt from The Post of Sept. 18, 1908:
Lieut. Thomas E. Selfridge, of the signal corps, was killed, and Orville Wright, the aviator, received a fractured thigh and two broken ribs, late yesterday afternoon, when the latter's aeroplane plunged to earth during an experimental flight over the drill grounds at Fort Myer. Lieut. Selfridge, who had been taken aloft at his own request, died last night at 8:10 o'clock in the post hospital. Mr. Wright's condition is not considered critical.
The accident was witnessed by a throng of upwards of 2,500 persons, who were instantly changed from cheering enthusiasts to saddened and depressed sympathizers.
The accident was caused by the breaking of one of the propeller blades. It occurred as the machine was making the second turn, at the lower end of the field, on the fourth lap.
An end of the blade flew off, and Mr. Wright apparently completely lost control of the machine, which tacked about choppily for a hundred feet or more, soared ten feet higher, and then dropped to the ground with a frightful force, from a height of about 75 feet.
The machine crumpled up into a tangled mass of wreckage, burying the two men. The horrified spectators dashed down the field, and those in the van lifted the machine and extricated the victims. Mr. Wright was conscious. Lieut. Selfridge was unconscious, and his face was covered with blood, which gushed from a great gash on his forehead.
It seems to be the general opinion of the experts who have investigated the accident that when the machine hit the ground, both Mr. Wright and Lieut. Selfridge landed on their feet first, and that they were thrown upward and outward by the tremendous force, landing on their heads.
A boy who witnessed the accident from the stone fence which bounds Arlington cemetery, said that they struck in this position.
"They were thrown in the air," he said, "and then fell forward on their faces."
Both men were removed in a few minutes to the finely equipped post hospital, where they were attended by a corps of army surgeons who happened to be present to witness the flight. Mr. Wright's condition was early reported to be not critical, but the surgeons announced that Lieut. Selfridge probably would die. He suffered a fracture of the base of the skull.
Lieut. Selfridge was perhaps the most enthusiastic aeronautical expert in the army. He certainly was the most experienced in the operation of heavier-than-air flying machines, having made a number of flights in Alexander Graham Bell's "June Bug." He was a member of the famous Selfridge family, notable for its naval record.