Off Conimicut Point, R.I. – August 3, 1916

Off Conimicut Point, Rhode Island – August 3, 1916 

Updated January 1, 2022.

     The information about this accident comes from a small news item that appeared in the Norwich Bulletin on August 5, 1916, Page 1, under the heading “Condensed Telegraphs”. 

     The new hydro-aeroplane of the Rhode Island Naval Militia struck a submerged oyster stake off Conimicut Point in Narragansett Bay.

     No further details were given. 

     Another news item found in The El Paso Herald, dated August 3, 1916, read as follows: “The hydroplane presented to the Rhode Island Naval Militia by Miss Lyra Brown Nickerson, struck a submerged oyster stake and partly sank off Conimicut.  Later it was drawn into shallow water to be repaired.”   

Newport, RI – July 2, 1928

Newport, Rhode Island – July 2, 1928 


Thalbert N. Alford

     On July 2, 1928, Commander Thalbert N. Alford, (41), USN, was piloting a Vought O2U Corsair over Newport Harbor with Lieutenant William Butler Jr., (31), aboard as an observer. 

     (Some press reports listed both men as Lieutenant Commanders, but such was not the case.)

     Commander Alford was doing some stunt flying, going through a series of loops and rolls 5000 feet over Newport Harbor.  After the plane made three successive loops, it suddenly went into a spinning dive and slammed nose first into the water. Commander Alford was killed instantly and went down with the aircraft, but Lieutenant Butler managed to free himself and floated to the surface. 

     Crewmen from several nearby naval vessels immediately launched boats and raced towards the scene. The first to arrive was a boat from the U.S.S. Antares with the ship’s doctor aboard.    

     Lieutenant Butler was plucked from the water and rushed to Newport Naval Hospital where he died shortly afterwards.  His injuries were severe, but he reportedly maintained consciousness up until about five minutes before his death.  At his bedside were his wife Adelle, and three officers from the U.S.S. Wright who would later make up the board of inquest. At one point he reportedly told the men, “They should not allow such planes to be used for stunting.”    

William Butler, Jr.

     Meanwhile recovery efforts for the aircraft and the body of Commander Alford were taking place. The navy tug Bob-o-link successfully hauled the plane to the surface.  Commander Alford was found still strapped in the cockpit, dead from the crushing force of the impact and not from drowning.  

     Commander Alford was born in Wills Point, Texas, October 26, 1888, and entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1905, shortly before his 17th birthday. 

     During World War I he earned the Navy Cross while serving overseas as commanding officer of the destroyer U.S.S. Nicholson.  After the war he served in Washington, D.C. with the Bureau of Engineering, later transferring to the Naval Communications Office. 

     He earned his wings as a navy pilot in August of 1927, less than one year before the accident.   

     Lieutenant Butler was born October 2, 1896 in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and was 31-years-old at the time of his death.  He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1920, and earned his pilots wings December 21, 1926.

     The Corsair involved in the accident was assigned to Lieutenant Butler, who at the time was serving aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Concord.  On the day of the crash, the Concord was away at sea, and both the plane and Lieutenant Butler had been detailed to Gould Island.   


     Providence Journal “Navy Fliers Fall To Death In Bay”, July 3, 1928, Page 1

     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.), (Associated Press Article), “Two Navy Flyers Killed In Crash”, July 3, 1928, page 2., memorial ID 43687817, and 48998844.


Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲