Thomas E. Selfridge

Aviator

Born: 8 February 1882
Died: 17 September 1908
Birthplace: San Francisco, California
Best known as: The first air crash fatality
First Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge of the United States Army was a pioneer in the development of air travel and the first air crash fatality. A graduate of the West Point military academy, Selfridge was appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt to observe the flight experiments of Alexander Graham Bell. In 1907 and 1908 Selfridge worked with Bell's team on aeronautics designs and piloted Bell's "June Bug" and "White Wing" aircrafts, the first U.S. soldier to fly an airplane. On 17 September 1908 Lt. Selfridge took a ride with aviation pioneer Orville Wright over Fort Meyer, Virginia. After about five minutes in the air, the plane crashed, falling from a height of at least 60 feet. Wright broke a leg and 2 or 3 ribs, but Selfridge suffered a skull fracture and died three hours later. The plane crashed a few hundred feet from Arlington National Cemetery, where Selfridge was buried with full honors.
Extra credit: Selfridge graduated from West Point in 1903, the same year as Douglas MacArthur.

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