Editor’s Note: In honor of the 90th anniversary of the first Women’s National Air Derby, the Yuma Sun is revisiting our pages from the past, and reprinting coverage from our archives of the event. This story originally appeared in the Yuma Morning Sun on Aug. 20, 1929:
While the eyes of an anxious nation are turned toward Wellton, Ariz., where the plane of Marvel Crosson, woman flier crashed into a Mesquite jungle in the Gila river valley, yesterday afternoon, United States department of commerce agents last night launched an investigation of ugly charges that several of the airships had been deliberately tampered with to put them out of the woman’s air derby.
It was reported from Los Angeles, last night, that the race would be halted at Phoenix until the investigation had been completed.
In the meanwhile, several passes combed the dense thicket on the north bank of the Gila all last night seeking trace of the lost plane. Three witnesses saw it go into a nose dive, yesterday afternoon, and crash to the ground. The searchers, led by Deputy Sheriffs Victor Gael and J.C. Livingston, are combing an area of one hundred square miles.
They were furnished with horses to conduct the search, although in many places the men were forced to crawl over wide areas on their hands and knees. The jungle extends towards Roll, and men of wide desert experience say it is the worst section in Arizona.
Sensational charges that the planes were tampered with were hurled last night by Lt. Herbert Fahy, husband of Mrs. Clara Fahy, a contestant in the race who was forced down at Calexico because of broken wire braces on her ship.
The wires had been eaten through with corrosive acid, Fahy charged.
He dispatched wires to the race officials at Cleveland, Ohio, asking that the derby be called off to protect the lives of the fliers.
Four aeroplanes will fly over the area this morning.
Miss Crosson’s ship, flying at about 2000 feet, wobbled in the air, flopped like a wounded bird and dove towards earth with the tail spinning madly. The sound of the crash could be faintly heard through the thin desert air.
It was the opinion around Wellton, last night, that the flier was either killed instantly, or seriously injured and buried in the wreckage of the ship.
The jungle growth is impassible in many places. Searchers said they could pass within a hundred yards of the ship and fail to notice it because of the denseness and height of the mesquite.
Sheriff James Polhamus has all available men in the brush.
Thea Rasche, German air star, who was forced down at Holtville, charges that dirt was placed in the gasoline tank. In an interview, and in making her charges, the Teuton aviatrix exhibited a telegram she received Sunday night at San Bernardino, warning her to be on the lookout for sabotage. She said she did not know the sender of the wire which came from New York. She said her plane was not guarded during the night.
Bobbi Trout, Los Angeles girl flier, was forced down near Algodones yesterday and cracked up in landing. She said that her motor had flooded and with a few coughs ceased functioning.
Investigation by the mechanics revealed that an altitude adjustment on the engine had been twisted so that Miss Trout was unable to operate it from the cockpit. The mechanics said that it appeared as though the connection had been twisted by design.
The boyish woman aeronaut declared that the circumstances appeared queer. She stayed in Yuma last night, after being brought from Mexico by Chief of Police Henry Levy. Her plane was badly damaged.
Although Miss Rasche’s ship was damaged considerably in the forced landing, repairs were made and she was scheduled to arrive at Fly field early today.
In making his charges, Lt. Fahy declared:
“The wires show evidence of being burned with acid. I am convinced that there is something rotten in this race. I’ll do everything in my power to have it called off.”
Mrs. Fahy joined her husband in Yuma last night, and they stayed at the Del Ming. They are going to survey the jungle from the air today in search for the Crosson plane.
(Mr.) Fahy, who is the holder of the world’s solo endurance record, damaged his plane badly when landing at Fly field. The wheel struck the raised edge of a concrete circle in the center of the field and smashed the landing gear. The machine tipped and damaged a wing.
Amelia Earhart, the American girl who flew the Atlantic was the first to arrive at the field, ran into trouble right after the wheels of her monoplane touched the ground. The plane ran onto a hummock and nosed over, bending the propeller. A new one was rushed from Los Angeles, and she flew to Phoenix a few minutes after the other fliers.
Miss Earhart said she had been delayed in taking off from San Bernardino because of a jammed starter spring, the condition of which she was unable to account for. The crack-up at Fly field she attributed to an unexplained circumstance which caused her stabilizer not to work.
The women fliers, while at Fly field, declared that the race had been poorly organized and charged that they did not know where they were going until it was decided early Monday morning at San Bernardino, to land at Yuma.
There had been considerable dissension among the fliers, and several quarrels had resulted, it was said.
Almost the entire night was spent in argument, and a threat of striking was made by the aviatrixes when an order came from race headquarters in Cleveland to land at Calexico. As some of them had shipped oil to Yuma, the order made a division among the fliers. A few wanted to land at the Imperial Valley city, while the majority were in favor of Yuma
At midnight, an ultimatum was delivered by the pilots declaring that the Calexico stop would have to be eliminated or the race was off.
Competition is keen among the fliers and rivalry for the honors of victory has increased their zeal. At Fly field, a conference of ladies resulted in an argument over postponing the take-off because of the injury to Miss Earhart’s ship.
Almost all of Yuma was at the field when the planes arrived.
Gladys O’Donnell followed the Earhart machine, and the line up of arrivals was in the following order: Florence Barnes, Louise Thaden, Ruth Nichols, Blanche Noyes, Vera Walker, Neva Paris, Marvel Crosson, Ruth Elder, Opal Kunz, Phoebe Omlie, Mrs. Keith Miller, Edith Foltz and Margaret Perry.
While the ships were being gassed, the fliers refreshed themselves with food and drink, served by the members of Yuma’s women’s club who acted as a reception committee.
At Phoenix last night, the lines of dissension among the fliers was sharply drawn and it appeared as though the race would be called off when several insisted that their ships had been maliciously tampered with, a report stated.
Neva Paris complained to officials at Fly field that during a brief absence from her ship someone tampered with her engine removing a wire necessary to the safe operation of the plane.
Mary Haizlip, of Tulsa, Okla., another entrant in the race who was delayed a day because her plane had not arrived, took off from Santa Monica last night and headed for Yuma to catch up with the pack.
While flying from San Bernardino, she noticed her gas gauge and found it almost empty. Remembering the flying field at Mexicali, she headed in that direction. As the ship drew over the beacon light, the motor coughed and died. Miss Haizlip glided to a good landing and examination of her gas tank showed that it was dry.