Port Jefferson, LI, NY yacht accident and drowning, Aug 1922


Donald A. Phipps, Yale Graduate, Swept From Speed Boat in Long Island Sound.


War Buddy Hears Cries but Is Unable to Guide Craft Toward Him.


Motor Boats and Hydroairplane Later Try to Find Son of Oyster Bay Business Man.

Special to The New York Times.

PORT JEFFERSON, L. I., Aug. 19. - At the height of a storm that swept Long Island Sound last night, Donald A. Phipps, Yale College boy, aviation veteran of the World War and son of Amos J. Phipps, wealthy Oyster Bay lumberman, was swept off the bow of his speed boat and drowned.

The tragedy of the youth's loss was made particularly pathetic because his only companion in the boat, William Lyons, his college roommate and army buddy, unable to manage the unfamiliar craft, could not manipulate it alongside the drowning man. For minutes that seemed like hours to Lyons, responding to shouted directions that grew so weak they finally were smothered by the roar of the surf, tried to work the thirty-five foot boat to the shifting spot in the dark whence came the wailing hails. When at last the boy managed despite the buffeting waves and blinding spray to control the craft and get it to where he wanted it, there was only a waste of tumbling water and his anxious cries went unanswered.

The accident happened about two miles off the Port Jefferson shore. Lyons, after tossing about nearly an hour in the hope of catching sight of his chum's body, made his way to land and summoned help. A dozen men launched boats in the darkness, while others set flares along the beach and searched mile after mile, hoping that Phipps might have battled his way to land.

Hopes were in vain, but soon after daylight a new hunt - this time for the body - was organized. Both boys were popular in this part of Long Island, Phipps having been particularly well known in Oyster Bay, where his father's home is situated in the Florence Park section. Motor boats cruised many miles while the storm abated, watching especially along shore.

Hydroaeroplane Aids Search.

When their early hunt failed a hydroairplane was sent aloft to aid them. For hours it circled back and forth, now rising for a sweeping survey, now dropping until it almost brushed the water. Late tonight the body was still missing.

Before the search was abandoned, hundreds had gathered along the beach, combing over every foot and staring out at the heaving sea, hoping that sooner or later they might carry word to the mother that at least the body of her son would be brought back to her. Mrs. Phipps was prostrated, and one of the first to offer her comfort was Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, widow of the late President, who went from her Sagamore Hill home to express her condolences.

Lyons, whose home is at East Hampton, had been visiting Phipps at Oyster Bay. On Saturday afternoon they started out in Phipps' 35-foot boat, a trim, fast craft of five-foot beam, to go to East Hampton, where Phipps was to have spent two weeks with his pal. The weather roughened as they got into open water and in the end spray so blanketed the windshield that navigation became difficult.

Despite the heavy weather, the boys were making good time, when, as they were some two miles off Port Jefferson, a brass cap protecting the anchor chain channel became dislodged and the surf began boiling in through the opening around the chain. Fearing that he and his companion would be deluged while they had yet a long way to go, Phipps clambered his unsteady way forward, climbed over the rail and lay on the bow, holding on with one hand while he replaced the cap with the other.

The little adjustment was easily made. Then the boy hauled himself erect and, grabbing a stanchion, took his first step toward the cabin. Just then a big wave struck the bow, plunging the speedboat's nose sharply downward and wresting the boy's grip from the handrail. Without an instant's chance to right himself, the youth was picked up and swirled into the water. By the time he had come up and brushed the sea out of his eyes, the boat, under the power of its fast engine, was heading on a sharp tack away from him.

Gave Directions to Companion.

From fifty feet away, Phipps shouted to Lyons, telling him to right the boat and come after him. Lyons tried to obey, but the spray blinded his vision, the helm wabbled under his unaccustomed hand, and all the time Phipps, rolled and battered by the roughening surf, was growing weaker.

Despairing at last of Lyons being able to obey the instructions but imperfectly heard above the howling of the storm, Phipps shouted to his friend to stop the engine.

"Get the oars and hold her steady," was the last command Lyons heard.

The boy did his best, hoping that if he could keep the craft still, Phipps, a strong swimmer, could make it. But strain as he might he could not see the boy in the water, could catch no faint syllable of a hail. He worked madly at the oars, trying to fix in mind whence had come that last cry. His bearings became uncertain. It seemed that a great interval had elapsed and he alternated between despair and ever seeing Phipps alive and moments of giddy hope when he thought the youth would come plowing through the next wave and reach an eager hand for a haul into the boat.

In the end there was nothing for the boy to do but to make his way ashore, hoping that by some miracle his companion might have preceded him there. That hope was ended and soon Lyons and others were setting forth for more hours of vain hunting.

Phipps was born at Plymouth Meeting, Pa., March 26, 1897. When he was 14 his father moved with the family to Oyster Bay. Young Phipps attended the Plymouth Friends Academy and later Morristown High School, Morristown, N. J., and Phillips Andover Academy, in Massachusetts.

After one year in Cornell University, Phipps entered the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in 1918, taking the "select course" there. He was graduated in 1921. He was a member of his class wrestling squad in his Freshman year, and belonged to the Chi Phi and York Hall fraternities.

On Oct. 11, 1917, Phipps enlisted as a private, first class, in the air service, and received his ground school training at the United States School of Aeronautics at Cornell University. While on leave from Sheffield he was acting squadron sergeant at Camp Dick and Carruthers Field, Tex., and on Dec. 10, 1918, received his commission as Second Lieutenant in the Air Service.

The New York Times, New York, NY 12 Aug 1922