The world's first fatal airplane crash occurred 75 years ago today at Fort Myer, in Arlington. The Army will honor the memory of the young officer killed in that crash at a public ceremony this morning at his grave site in section 3 of Arlington Cemetery.
Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, 26, died of a fractured skull after a plane in which he was riding, piloted by inventor-aviator Orville Wright, fell to Earth when its propeller broke.
Selfridge was an officer in the Army Signal Corps, which initially was the Army's air arm. The separate Air Force ultimately evolved.
The Washington Post reported the day after the Sept. 17, 1908, accident that 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.' "
The Post reported that the flight of the experimental plane "was witnessed by a throng of upward of 2,500 persons, who were instantly changed from cheering enthusiasts to saddened and depressed sympathizers."
Wright, who survived serious injuries, returned with his brother Wilbur the following year and successfully flew the plane on a 10-mile course from Fort Myer to Alexandria and back. The Army bought the plane, and U.S. military aviation was born.
Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan was named for the lieutenant.