Plum Island, MA. – September 4, 1951

Plum Island, Massachusetts – September 4, 1951


P-51 Mustang – U.S. Air Force Photo

     On September 4, 1951, two F-51D Mustang fighter planes, (A.K.A P-51), took off from Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Maine, for a navigational training flight.  Both aircraft were assigned to the 173rd Fighter Squadron of the 132nd Fighter-Bomber Wing.  One aircraft, (Ser. No. 44-72724), was piloted by Lt. Donald W. Stewart, Jr., 27; and the second aircraft, (Ser. No. 45-11383), was piloted by Lt. Bernard L. Packett, 26. 

     At about 4:15 p.m., while both aircraft were passing over the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, area, they were involved in a minor mid-air collision.  A radio conversation between the pilots discussing the situation was picked up by the radio operator at the Salem, Massachusetts, Coast Guard Station.  Lt. Stewart’s aircraft was more seriously damaged than that of Lt. Packett’s, and he was having trouble maintaining control.  The Salem operator immediately notified the station’s commanding officer.

     Lt. Steward was instructed to head for Logan International Airport in Boston, where emergency crews would be standing by, but when he arrived over the area of Newbury, Massachusetts, a town north of Boston, he radioed that he was having a greater difficulty maintaining altitude and control. 

     A Coast Guard rescue helicopter was dispatched with two men aboard: the pilot, Lt. Clarence R. Easter, and a crewman, Eugene J. Batkiewicz.       

     Lt. Stewart bailed out at 7,000 feet while over the area of Plum Island, in Newbury.  The parachute opened successfully, and he came down in the cold water a few hundred feet from shore.   The rescue helicopter was equipped with pontoons for a water landing.  Lt. Easter, seeing the parachute atop the surface, landed the helicopter on the water next to it, and dove in to assist Lt. Stewart who hadn’t surfaced.  Both he and Bathkiewicz managed to pull the unconscious Stewart aboard the chopper, and then raced to the Merrimac River Coast Guard station at the northern end of Plum Island.  There, doctors were unsuccessful in their attempts to revive Lt. Stewart, and pronounced him dead about forty-five minutes later.

     Lt. Stewart’s aircraft crashed into a sandy area of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island where it exploded and burned.    

     Lt. Packett was able to successfully fly his aircraft back to Dow AFB.

     Lt. Stewart was a 1946 graduate of West Point, and was survived by his wife and two children.  He’s buried in Lincoln Memorial Park, Lincoln, Nebraska.  To see a photo of his grave go to, memorial # 95846596. 


     Newburyport Daily News, “Pilot Dies Despite Rescue Efforts By Coast Guard Off Plum Island Beach”, September 5, 1951, page 1






Early Aviation At Newburyport, Massachusetts

Early Aviation Newspaper Articles

Of Newburyport, Massachusetts

early biplane

     The following newspaper articles, culled from various sources, offer a small glimpse of early aviation trials held in Newburyport, Massachusetts.


Successful Aero Flights

New Yorkers Make Several “Runs” with “Flying Fish”

     Newburyport, Mass. – April 17. – Over the marshes of Plum Island, the Herring-Burgess aeroplane, “Flying Fish”, made three successful flights today.  Arthur M. herring of Hammondsport, N. Y., piloted the machine in the first flight.  After alighting easily at the river’s edge after a 250 yards’ run, the craft was turned over to W. Sterling Burgess, who made two short flights.    

     The Salt Lake Herald-Republican, April 18, 1910.


Breaks World’s Record

Great Feat Of Burgess Aeroplane In Its Initial Flight

     Newburyport, Mass., April 18. – Three successive aeroplane flights by A. M. Herring of New York and W. S. Burgess at Plum Island aviation field Sunday created a record for heavier than air machines when the big machine started on each one of its three flights by its own power in skids while resting on the ground.

     The successful flight is the culmination of three years steady planning by the two inventors who made the flights, which marked the opening of the aeroplane era in New England.

     Orleans County Monitor, April 20, 1910


Flights By Auto Racer

New Device Works Well On Herring Burgess Aeroplane

     Newburyport, Mass., May 13 – William Hilliard, and automobile racer of Boston, made three successful flights in a new Herring-Burgess aeroplane at Plum Island aviation grounds to-day.  The machine he used had a new device of his own invention which supplanted the “fins” on the top, and is used to maintain the equilibrium of the machine.

     Several hundred yards were covered in each of the three flights, at a height of between fifteen and twenty feet, and during one ascension Hilliard was able to negotiate a complete turn, the first he has been able to make. 

     New York Tribune, May 14, 1910, page 3


Flight At Plum Island

     Newburyport, Mass., May 24 – The longest aeroplane flight in New England has been made by William Hilliard, of Boston, who went a distance of a third of a mile at Plum Island.  The machine worked smoothly and no mishap happened.

     The Washington Times, May 24, 1910, Page 13, Last Edition  


Biplane In Several Flights

     New Device to Give Lateral Stability Works Well at Plum Island

     Newburyport, Mass., May 27 – Several aeroplane flights lasting an hour and a half and covering distances from a quarter to half a mile at an altitude of fifteen feet were made to-day by William Hilliard in a Herring-Burgess biplane at Plum Island aviation grounds.  There was a brisk breeze blowing at the time, and it was thought at first the flights would have to be postponed until the air was calmer.  Hilliard, it is said, jestingly made a vow last night that he would not eat again until he had made a flight, and he evidently was hungry this morning, for he launched the machine despite the breeze and flew across the meadows.

     The biplane has lately been equipped with a new device to give lateral stability.  This device is intended especially for use in windy weather, and to-day it had its first real test.  the inventor and Mr. Hilliard say that it worked remarkably well.

     New York Tribune, May 28, 1910, Page 5.  


Insurance Companies Will Not Accept Risk Of Aviators As Ordinary

     Newburyport, June 8.  Evidence that insurance companies are not to accept the risk of aviators as ordinary has been revealed here in the case of A. L. Pfitzner of Hammondsport, N.Y., who has been making flights at Plum Island.  Pfitzner was visited by an agent of the insurance company Justas he was preparing for a trial of some new skids on a biplane today.  The company had heard of the narrow escape of Pfitzner a few days ago when he crashed to the ground from a height of 30 feet.  He was obliged to sign a clause absolving the insurance company from liability in case of death while engaged in flying machine flights.

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 8, 1910, Page 5.   


Aviator Pfitzner Makes Flight From Plum Island To Pork Island

     Newburyport, Mass., July 8 – A. L. Pfitzner, of Hammondsport, N. Y., made a very successful flight here today in a Burgess biplane, covering a distance of two miles at a height of 100 feet.  Pfitzner started from the Plum Island aviation field and landed at Pork Island.  The aviator said he could have gone farther but had to descend owing to his engne being overheated.  This is the most successful flight at plum Island so far.

     Mr. Pfitzner will make another flight this evening in the same machine while William Hilliard of Boston will also make a trip in his aeroplane.

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, July 8, 1910, Page 4.   


Aviator Falls Into River And Swims Ashore

     Newburyport, Mass., July 9 – Following a spectacular three mile flight across Plum Island meadows early today, A. L. Pfitzner, the New York aviator while flying at a height of 75 feet was hurled into Plum Island’s river when the machine which he was operating was capsized by a cross current of air.  Mr. Pfitzner swam ashore and went to the aviation shed and an examination disclosed a badly bruised head and it is feared that he is injured internally.  He plucklly stayed on the grounds until the remnants of the machine had been hauled from the river, after which he was driven to his quarters at the Plum Island Hotel, two miles distant. But little was left of his machine except the engine.  he was using a Curtiss biplane at the time of the accident.

     The Bridgeport Evening farmer, July 9, 1910, page 2.   

     Note:  This report of the accident states the aircraft was a “Curtis biplane”.  The following report states it was a “Burgess biplane”  


Fell 75 Feet

     Newburyport, Mass., July 9 – Following a spectacular three mile flight across Plum Island meadow today, A. L. Pfitsnor (Name misspelled – should be “Pfitzner”) of New York, flying at a height of seventy-five feet in a Burgess biplane, was hurled into Plum Island river.  The machine capsized in air currents.  It is feared he is internally injured.

     The Fairmont West Virginian, July 9, 1910, Page 6.   



Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲