Talcott Mountain, CT – December 19, 1884

Talcott Mountain, Connecticut – December 19, 1884

Zephaniah Phelps

Zephaniah Phelps

     If the following story is to be believed, it is perhaps the first mechanically involved aviation related accident to occur in the state of Connecticut, and possibly New England. 

     Zephaniah Phelps, age 75, was said to be an inventor whose main interests focused on perpetual motion and aerial flight.  He lived in a hut in the woods near the town of Avon, Ct., and reportedly wasn’t taken seriously by those who knew him.  Undaunted, Mr. Phelps built a flying-machine of his own design, and by the early winter of 1884 he was ready to test it. 

     On December 19, 1884, Phelps carried his invention to the top of Talcott Mountain where a tall wooden observation tower stood.  His flying-machine was designed to be worn on his back, and according to the Weekly Saratogian, “consisted of a strong but light gas generator, a combination of cog-wheels and pulleys and two light pitch turbine wheels, both arranged at a slight angle to the vertical.  The whole contrivance, including two tri-angular wings, weighed about sixty pounds.”       

     While standing atop the observation tower, Phelps donned his machine and secured himself to it with a rope.  After starting the small engine, he leaped into space. 

     “For a moment the machine rose a few feet and then began to drop.” the Weekly Saratogian reported, “Phelps found his generator losing power with every second and attempted to discover the cause.  By some mistake he opened the discharge valve and instantly was falling rapidly, with his turbine motionless and useless.  The only check to his descent were the two triangular wings.”

     Phelps dropped into some trees about 700 feet below the tower breaking several bones.   

     The newspaper account goes on to state he was found by a hiker who happened to hear his groans, which would seem to indicate that there hadn’t been any witnesses to the whole affair.  Phelps was reportedly carried to a house about a mile away for treatment of his injuries.

     “I do not care so much for my hurts,” Phelps was quoted in The National Police Gazette, “But I had hoped to make my name immortal, and now I am so crippled that I am afraid I can never fly.  It was not the fault of my principles or my machine.  When I got on top of the tower I strapped myself to the cylinder and tied on my turbine attachments.  Then I stood on the side and stared my gas machine.  The turbine wheels revolved as well as I had expected, and carried me clear of the tower and some feet away.  I was going finely when the wind caught me and turned me downward.”     

Updated August 13, 2018

     Two other aviation related accidents known to have occurred on Talcott Mountain happened in 1971 and 1972.

     On December 15, 1971, a Simsbury, Connecticut, pilot crashed on the mountain in heavy fog.  He reportedly escaped with only a few minor scratches.   

     On April 13, 1972, a man from Virginia was killed when his plane crashed and burned on Talcott Mountain in heavy fog.    


     Morning Journal and Courier, (New Haven, Ct.), “A Perilous Ride – An Old man’s Unsuccessful Trial Of A New Flying Machine”, December 22, 1884.

     Weekly Saratogian – Saratoga Springs “A Flying Machine Crank”, December 25, 1884

     The National Police Gazette, “Like A Falling Star”, January 17, 1885    

     Hartford Courant, “Crash on Takeoff Leaves Pilot Hurt”, January 23, 1975.  Article is primarily about a man who crashed in Simsbury, Connecticut, on January 22, 1975.  In that instance a Beechcraft Musketeer crashed in a field just after takeoff, after having completed its annual inspection.  The pilot was transported to a hospital for treatment. The end of the article relates that two other crashes had occurred in Simsbury, both on Talcott Mountain.

Updated August 29, 2018

     On September 21, 1976, a 29-year-old hang-glider from Wethersfield, Connecticut, was killed when he crashed just after taking off from the top of Talcott Mountain.  According to witnesses he fell 150 feet and came down in a tree.   

     Source: Providence Evening Bulletin, “Conn. Hang-Gliding Expert Killed,” September 22, 1976, page A-12. 

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲