It took four years for the Wright brothers to kill this guy

Pax Arcana

The dashing fly-boy pictured at right is Army Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, who the New York Times tells us was the first-ever fatality from an airplane crash.

Selfridge died when the plane he was in, piloted at the time by Orville Wright, went down from about 75 feet in front of a crowd of about 2,000 in Virginia. The Times extrapolates from the founding event to describe how aircraft fatalities throughout the years have boosted the safety of future fliers:

The arc of safety improvements has been dramatic. Boeing, reaching back to the beginning of the jet age, found one fatal accident for every 30,000 commercial jet flights in 1959. By 2006, the rate for all airliner flights had dropped to one accident for every 4.2 million flights by Western-built commercial jets, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit research group. (Lieutenant Selfridge nonetheless stands at the head of a rather long queue. Boeing counted 26,454 deaths of people on commercial jets between 1959 and 2006, and an additional 934 on the ground.)

More interesting to me is that the Wright brothers first flew successfully in 1904 but the Selfridge accident didn’t happen until 1908. This strikes me as an awfully successful stretch for a pair of unpracticed pilots flying planes made mostly of old bike parts, boogers, and cut-up soccer balls. Wait. That was the Arcana brothers’ first flying machine. Never mind.

Flight’s First Fatal Trip [New York Times]

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