PILOT SACRIFICED LIFE TO SAVE OTHERS
April 30, 1921,
Plain-Dealer Forced to seek a landing in downtown Cleveland by engine
trouble and unable to see because of a dense fog, Air Mail Pilot J.T.
Christensen (James Tinus) yesterday afternoon sacrificed his life rather than
attempt a landing in a street -- a course which would have endangered the lives
of many people. Facing death, he struggled for fifteen minutes to find a
landing place before the crash scene.
James Tinus Christensen
The pilot fell 200 feet to
the Erie railroad tracks at Scranton and University roads S.W., almost under
Central viaduct. His airplane was reduced to a mass of tangled wreckage, the
gasoline tank exploded and the fire which followed burned the pilot's body,
caught under the debris.
Christensen, his engine
missing, searched back and forth over the southern portion of Cleveland for a
vacant lot in which to land. He flew low, barely missing the tops of some
buildings. Many person stood on the street and watched. They said his engine
seemed to be missing, and to the observers it was evident he was in straits.
Once he skirted over a
vacant lot into which he might have dropped, but did not see it because of the
fog. He tried once to rise, but was unable to attain enough altitude to allow
him to continue the search.
When he was directly over
the Cuyahoga river he flew upstream, presumably intending to drop into the
river, but Central viaduct suddenly loomed ahead and he was forced to return.
Trapped between Central
viaduct and the high level bridge, he circled upstream once more, flying at the
height of the viaduct until suddenly his engine appeared to fall entirely and he
fell, the plane striking on its nose among the piles alongside the railway
Misses River by 25 Feet
Aviators say that if he had
dropped into the river, twenty-five feet away, his life would have been saved.
The aviator's battle for
life was watched by hundreds who were attracted by the roaring of the motor.
His flying mates, who
declare he was one of the most skillful of air mail pilots, say that in the fog
he could not have been able to see beyond 200 feet.
Unable to get his engine
to run properly, they declare, he was forced to look for a way out of his
The only paths open were
to attempt a street landing, with great danger to vehicles and lives, to find a
vacant lot, an attempt which he made and failed in, or to drop into the river.
They say that he was trying to descend into the river, feeling his way in the
fog, when the crash came.
Christensen was making his
first trip on the Chicago to Cleveland route. He was transferred recently to
that division from the Cleveland to New York route.
He told friends when he
was transferred that it was exactly the assignment he wanted. The plane he was
flying was a converted De Haviland.
...Christensen was 31
years old. His home was in Maywood, Chicago, but he maintained a room with Carl
...He was well known here,
having flown at the first aerial tournament held in Cleveland at Woodland Hills
park, Aug. 15 to Aug. 25, 1919.
He married two years ago
in Cleveland Miss Lena Davis. He met Miss David while she was attending Dana
College, Blair, Neb. The couple took an airplane honeymoon trip from Cleveland
to Akron and other Ohio cities.
Mrs. Christensen is
visiting relatives in Nebraska and no one was at home at the little cottage near
the Maywood air field in Chicago when reporter called there last night.
dead aviator was one of the best flyers in the service, heads of the mail flying
department said. He held three speed records.
On Dec. 30, 1920, he
startled the commercial flying world by taking mail from Chicago to New York,
741 miles, in five hours and thirty-one minutes, averaging 117 miles an hour
from Chicago to Cleveland and 151 miles an hour from Cleveland to New York.
Another record was established when he flew a De Haviland from Omaha to Chicago
in two hours and forty-five minutes.
Knew Air Currents
Christensen's speed supremacy
in the air mail service lay, according to officials, in his knowledge of winds.
He knew that the winds varied at different altitudes and always jockeyed up and
down until he found the most favorable current.
He was taught to fly at
the old Curtiss flying school at Norfolk, Virginia, before the war. When the
war broke out he joined the army as a civilian instructor and was sent to
Gerstner field, Lake Charles, LA. He later was given the rank of second
lieutenant and became instructor in stunt flying at which he was expert.
After three years in the
army he was discharged in the spring of 1919 and did civilian flying at Erie
Beach, Erie, Pa. He came to Cleveland to fly at the Woodland Hills tournament
and then joined the mail service.
He flew on the
Chicago-to-Omaha division, then was transferred to the Cleveland-New York route
and recently to the Cleveland-Chicago route.