This column ran in the June 1 edition of the Prairie Post
We’ve had a few air shows in Jamestown and another small show is planned for this summer. The only disasters have been financial; I don’t think there have ever been any fatalities at any of the air shows.
In fact, I don’t believe there have been any fatalities at the Jamestown Airport in any form.
While Medina doesn’t have an airport it has had an air disaster.
This story is related by Evelyn Burleson who wrote an article for the Jamestown Sun called Jamestown Aviation Notes. It listed the pilot and airplane happenings at the airport and in the region.
Back in October of 1934 a few pilots made a stop in Medina to give people rides and do a little stunt flying. I’m sure it drew a large crowd of people interested in the planes and the people that flew them. After all, most people at that time would still stop and look into the air anytime they heard a plane pass over head.
According to Burleson Frank Smith of Bismarck and William Stolzenberger of Hettinger were heading to Bismarck in their Waco aircraft from a successful day at Medina. I’m sure a number of Medina residents got their first trip in an airplane which probably cost a dollar or two of depression era money.
In fact, the day had gone so well and Smith was so happy he decided to do one more trick on the way out of town. It wasn’t a good decision.
According to Burleson’s report he tried to do a wingover at an altitude of about 200 or 300 feet.
If you guessed that was a little too close to the ground to try such a stunt you are way ahead of me.
The plane stalled and plummeted to the ground killing both occupants in front of the crowd of Medina residents that had gathered for the little air show.
Burleson called it a sacrifice to the god of “low stunt flying.” The Department of Commerce, this was in the days before the Federal Aviation Administration, called it a violation of the 1,500 foot minimum for stunt flying.
In reality this incident, and many like it during the barnstorming era of aviation, was the reason why many of the older generation didn’t trust flight.
Can you imagine ever getting in an airplane again if shortly after your first flight you watched the aircraft crash and kill its pilots?