Canada’s first flying fatality

Inspecting the engine of Bryant’s plane after his crash at Victoria on August 6, 1913.

Inspecting the engine of Bryant’s plane after his crash at Victoria on August 6, 1913.

Vic Atkinson, Contributor ~

Ten years after the dreams of Orville and Wilbur Wright were realized, the American husband and wife team of John Bryant and Alys McKey visited Canada with their Curtis type biplane in 1913.

Unlike the Wright brothers, whose first venture to the sky in a fragile biplane was witnessed by only five people, the couples‘ flights were witnessed by thousands.

Their first flying demonstrations were in Vancouver on Aug. 1 and 2.  John Bryant thrilled the crowd with his expert handling of the machine. Then his wife Alys took the machine up and set two Canadian records for women: the first flight made in the Dominion of Canada by a woman pilot and attaining a height of 2,200 feet.

Their next demonstration was in Victoria.

Alys was first to take the biplane up.  She took off from Willows and flew towards Uplands, but strong ocean winds forced her to turn around and land.  John was to make the next flight over Victoria.  For this demonstration, he removed the wheels from the aircraft and substituted a single float.  This allowed the machine to take off and land on water.

Taking off from Cadboro Bay, he headed for the city centre.  Every vantage point was jammed with cheering spectators as he flew overhead and then landed just outside the Inner Harbour.

At 5:30 p.m. he took off for another demonstration, circling the city until he was over the business section. Reaching the height of 800 feet, the machine was seen to falter and then dive.  When it was over City Hall, the dive steeped and the aircraft began to spin and disintegrate until the right wing broke off.  Completely out of control, the aircraft plummeted down striking the flat roof of the Lee Dye building, at the corner of Cormorant Street and Theatre Alley in Chinatown.

John was killed instantly as the rear-mounted engine broke free and crushed him.

His death was to be Canada’s first flying fatality. Newspaper headlines sadly announced his passing: “Birdman killed on his 600th flight.”

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