Sparta, TN Balloon Wreck, Nov 1927

Story of Epoch-Making Trip Into Air Partly Revealed by Instruments in Wrecked Bag

Sparta, Tenn., Nov. 6 (AP).-The story of what perhaps was an epoch-making flight into the “deep blue,” stood partly revealed Sunday in the instruments and equipage of a wrecked balloon, while the body of Capt. Hawthorne C. Gray, the pilot, lay in the basement mortuary at a country store.

Capt. Gray took off from Scott Field, Ill., Friday in an attempt to set a world’s altitude record.

His own log showed he was alive when he reached 40,000 feet; his instruments showed he climbed to between 42,500 and 43,000 feet, either mark a record; but what passed between the entry of that last “40,000” on his cardboard log sheet and the drifting to earth of the 80,000-foot bag will probably never be exactly determined.

Army officers here to safeguard the instruments and take charge of the body, agreed Sunday, however, that exhaustion of the oxygen supply on the three-hour journey from Scott Field, Ill., caused Capt. Gray’s death.

Removal of the body for burial in Arlington Military Cemetery was delayed to coincide with the arrival there of Mrs. Gray, Lieut. H. H. Couch was placed in charge of the casket and he has been instructed to take with him to Washington the Barographs, log and other paraphernalia. There and give final reading. A board of inquiry was expected to examine the equipment and draft a report, either at Washington or Scott Field.

It will have before it the oxygen mask which Gray wore to the last, two fifty-pound oxygen tanks their dials registering empty; a severed tube of a third empty tank, cut away as a ballast; two time pressure altitude recorders, one of which failed to function perfectly; a clock which “froze” and then started again, and the tersely, irregular written log of the flight, interspersed with keys to radio receptions and ending with the words, “sky, ordinary, deep blue; sun very bright; sand all gone; 40,000.”

Lieut. Couch’s preliminary reading of the barograph Saturday night showed that the height of 40,000 feet and over was maintained for some time. The instrument will indicate, when calibrated, the minute at which the maximum height was obtained, but I can not reveal when Capt. Gray lost consciousness.

After the examination by Lieut. Couch, the instrument officer who checked Gray‘s apparatus before the flight, they agreed that failure of the oxygen supply cause suffocation in the rarified air. Their only conjecture was the pilot had miscalculated his time and exhausted the tanks before natural inflation brought the bag to earth.

His clock had stopped shortly after 3:17 p. m., the last recorded time entry. The balloon was then about 30,000 feet up.

Farmers saw it floating low about dusk Friday, but were unable to catch the trailing ropes. No answer came to their hails. A few hours later the balloon was caught in a tree and collapsed. A youth climbing the tree Saturday morning, discovered Capt. Gray’s body.

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 7 Nov 1927