A bad day at the office

Black and white photo of a biplane stuck 300 feet up a 350 foot tall radio mast

While looking for something else, I came across this rather incredible photo in the Imperial War Museum collection. That's a seaplane stuck 300 feet up a 350ft tall radio mast! If that's not amazing enough, the pilot was rescued by three men who climbed up to retrieve him. And he survived.

Here's the IWM's description:

A British seaplane, whilst carrying out exercises, emerged from a cloud at high speed and struck one of the masts of a shore wireless station. The mast, which was about 350 feet high, was composed of latticed steel girders and the seaplane's engines became wedged in the interstices of the girders, in such a way, that the body of the machine stuck out at right angles to the mast. The pilot, who was stunned, was unconscious, three hundred feet above the ground. A small party of bluejackets were at work painting the mast, and one of these, a seaman of the Naval Reserve named Rath climbed up the inside of the mast until he reached the machine, and then crawled out to the plane to hold the pilot until help came. Two more men, Ordinary Seaman Knoulton and dockhand Abbott, passed a rope out to him, which Rath secured to the body of the unconscious pilot, and lowered him down to safety. The gallentry of these men is accentuated by the fact that the mast was very badly damaged, and might at any moment have collapsed. The damaged fuselage was only held in a horizontal position by the engine being jammed between the girders, and at the height of 300 feet the wind caused the mast and the machine to sway as if threatening to crash to earth. The pilot owes his preservation to the intrepid gallentry of these three men, who, while aline to the risks they ran, performed the rescue without hesitation for personal safety.

Some more information: the crash took place on 14 September 1917 at Horsea Island in Portsmouth Island. The pilot was Acting Flight Commander E. A. de Ville, flying a Sopwith Baby, which you can see a bit better here:

Black and white photo of a biplane stuck 300 feet up a 350 foot tall radio mast (close-up)

Rath was awarded the Albert Medal in Gold, Knoulton and Abbott the Albert Medal. Hopefully they also got the rest of the day off!

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://airminded.org/copyright/.

6 thoughts on “A bad day at the office

  1. "to hold the pilot until help came"!

    The bravery of Naval Reservist Rath is almost beyond belief. I feel like I need a sit down just from reading about it (and I am sitting down).

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