Hampton Roads, VA Airship 'Roma' Disaster, Feb 1922

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Big Dirigible 'Roma' Plunges 1,000 Feet To Earth, Capsizes Across Live Wire and Burns.

Thirty-four men were killed, eight were injured seriously and three were injured or only slightly bruised when the giant army airshhip Roma, withher crew and a number of civilians, totalling 45 in all aboard, plunged Tuesday from a thousand feet or more in the air to the ground at the Hampton Roads Naval base.
The accident presumeably was caused by a broken rudder and as the big dirigible plunged to earth it capsized across a high tension electric line bursting in a roaring furnace of blazing hydrogen gas.
Long after dark Tuesday night many hours after her fall, the ship was still a mass of flames from end to end of her 140 foot mass. The fire fed on the million cubic feet of gas which had distended the great bag for the flight and made all attempt at rescue futile.
Barely a dozen of those aboard were picked up alive and one of those died on the way to the hospital. All of those who survived the fire escaped by jumping as the ship struck. The others penned in the hull were burned to death.
Accounts of survivors and of eye witnesses as to what had happened appeared to agree that the huge kite-like structure of the stern rudder, itself as large as a bombing plane, had slipped to one side as the Roma drove along a thousand feet above the army base.
She was making a trial flight with a new battery of Liberty motors. They were installed to replace Italian engines brought with her from Italy, but which have not proved satisfactory. Installation was completed at Langley field two weeks ago.
The Roma was tha largest semi-rigid dirigible in the world and cost the United States $200,000. The accident is akin to the destruction of the ZR-2 in England last August when 44 officers and men perished.
An official list of the survivors, dead and missing in the Roma disaster was received from Langley Field by the army air service Tuesday night. The address, however, in most cases were unavailable. The list follows:
Identified Dead
First Lieut. WILLIAM E. RILEY of 526 East Eighty-Sixth Street, New York.
Captain WALTER J. REED of Scarsdale, N. Y.; Major JOHN D. REARDON of Washington, D. C.; First Lieutenant CLARENCE H. WELCH of Papillion, Neb.; Lieut. B. G. BURT, pilot, slightly injured; Sergent HARRY A. CHAPMAN; Sergeant VIRDEN T. PECK of Terre Haute, Ind. (uninjured); Sergeant JOSEPH M. BIEDENBACK of Akron, O.; Corporal FLORES; CHARLES DWORACK, McCook field, of Dayton, O.; RAY HURLEY of the national advisory committee on aeronautics, (uninjured); WALTER A. McNAIR of the bureau of standards, Washington, D. C.
Major JOHN G. THORNELL; Major WALTER W. VAUTMIER; Captain DALE MABRY; Captain GEO. D. WATTS; Captain ALLEN F. McFARLAND; Captain DURSCHMIDT; First Lieut. J. R. HALL; First Lieut. C. BURNS; First Lieut. CLIFFORD E. SMYTHE; First Lieut. WALLACE C. CUMMINGS; First Lieut. AMBROSE V. CLINTON; First Lieut. HAROLD HINE; Master Sergeant McNALLY; Master Sergeant MURRY; Master Sergeant GORBY; Sergeant HARRIS; Sergeant HILLIARD; Sergeant BEAL; Sergeant YARBOROUGH; Sergeant RYAN; Sergeant HUFFMAN; Sergeant SCHUMACHER; Sergeant HOLMES; Sergeant HESTERON; Private KINIGSTON; Private BLAKELY; Private THOMPSON; Private HILL; civilians (all said to be of McCook field, Dayton, Ohio), STRYKER; HANSON; O'LAUGHLIN; MERRIMAN; SCHNIENBERGER.

Essex County Republican New York 1922-02-24


The Roma Crew

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the air disaster of the Roma. My grandfather was the 1st officer on the ship (Walter J. Reed) and one of the few survivors. He had two children; my mother and my uncle, the latter still alive today. We welcome any efforts to capture accurately any and all information on this event. Thank you for your work to address the same.

AIr Ship Roma

Hello Nancy,
My name is Grace Hevron Werline. My Uncle was one of the men who died in the Air Ship Roma disaster. His name was Irby Hevron. His remains are buried in the city cemetery in our small Imdiana of town of Elwood.
I believe my father was around 12 when my uncle died.
I remember that he talked to my sisters and I about the disaster and had is wallet. I can't thank you enough for writing your book about this forgotten tragedy and the sacrifice these men made. Each of our children will receive a copy of your book. Not only is it part of history, but part of our family heritage.

Thank you,
Grace Hevron Werline

Airship ROMA disaster


My name is Nancy E. Sheppard and I am a historian and writer... I've devoted the last three years of my work to researching ROMA and her crew. BRIG GEN Reed is someone I've come to admire a great deal, along with his wife, Maria. I have recently entered into a contract with a publisher to bring ROMA's story to publication, with the tentative release date being the 94th anniversary of the disaster.

My email address is AirshipRoma@gmail.com... Please feel free to contact me. I would love to talk to you about your grandfather and any information you might have.

Very best,
Nancy E. Sheppard

Roma Disaster

Thanks for this article. Walter J. Reed was my grandfather.