Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 05, 2016

1935 Airplane Crash in Pelham Results in "First Case of Airplane Assault" Ever to Be Tried in the Region

It was a beautiful, lazy Sunday afternoon during the Labor Day weekend of 1935.  Harry S. Shiner, of the Bronx, and two friends were spending the day swimming off Hunter's Island.  They reached the island on a rowboat that they hired for the day and, after they changed, left all their clothes in the rowboat.  During the afternoon, Harry hopped in the rowboat, leaving his two friends, and went for a leisurely row in the vicinity.

Shiner rowed past Travers Island into the channel between the New York Athletic Club facilities and Glen Island.  On Travers Island, a large crowd was enjoying a Labor Day weekend baseball game.  Glen Island was crowded with bathers.

As Shiner rowed into the channel toward New Rochelle, a seaplane was beginning its taxi into the channel coming from the direction of New Rochelle toward Hunter's Island.  Piloted by Charles Yager of New Rochelle, he owned the seaplane jointly with Kenneth and Alfred Bunyard of Randall Place, Pelham Manor. 

The sea plane was bumping along the water with its propeller whirring.  As Yager maneuvered the aeroplane through the narrow channel, he observed a cabin cruiser in the channel and changed course to travel around it.  As he did, he piloted his craft toward the path of the rowboat in which Harry Shiner traveled.

Staring directly at the seaplane's propeller, Shiner panicked and leaped overboard into the water of the channel.  As he dove from the rowboat, the craft was overturned and shoved directly into the path of the seaplane.  

Sensing disaster, Harry Yager gunned the engine of his seaplane to attempt an early takeoff from the channel.  There wasn't enough time.

The seaplane smashed into the rowboat, sinking it immediately about fifty fee from the Glen Island wall.  The propeller and left pontoon of the seaplane were damaged.  Both Yager and Shiner were forced to swim ashore.  A member of the New Rochelle Harbor Police responded and both men were taken to New Rochelle Hospital, though neither was seriously hurt.

Harry Shiner filed criminal assault charges against Yager.  The matter was scheduled for a prompt trial on the day after Labor Day in what was described as "the first case of airplane assault ever to be tried in police court in this vicinity."

The highly anticipated trial arising from the "Queer Crash" opened on the morning of Tuesday, September 3, 1935.  Victor R. Carpenter of the Village of North Pelham, appeared with Yager at the trial as attorney for Yager.

Alas, as one report noted, the "trial on Tuesday morning was not so thrilling as the accident which preceded it."  Harry S. Shiner of the Bronx failed to appear.  All charges were dismissed.

Pelhamites can visit the scene of one of this early aircraft accident off the waters of Pelham.  Go to the end of today's Shore Park and look slightly to your left at the waters between Glen Island and Travers Island.  There you will see exactly the site of what once was described as a "Queer Crash" of the seaplane and the rowboat, a product of an earlier time in the history of local aviation -- and of Pelham.

1935 Seaplane Likely Similar to the One
Involved in the Accident Off the Waters of
Pelham on September 1, 1935.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

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I have written before about a surprisingly early airplane disaster in Pelham.  See Mon., Aug. 18, 2014:  Plane Crash in Pelham in 1931.  This additional early airplane accident off the waters of the shores of Pelham is described in the article quoted below which is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Queer Crash Off Travers Island Results in Charge of Assault With an Airplane.

Baseball fans at Travers Island and bathers at Glen Island witnessed the collision of an airplane and rowboat in the channel between Glen and Hunter Islands on Sunday afternoon in which the occupants of both craft were slightly injured, the rowboat sunk and the airplane was damaged.  The aftermath of the crash was the first case of airplane assault ever to be tried in police court in this vicinity.  The trial on Tuesday morning was not so thrilling as the accident which preceded it because the plaintiff failed to appear.

Charles Yager of No. 15 South Division street, New Rochelle, and Harry S. Shiner, of the Bronx were the principals in the accident and trial.  Yager operated the plane and Shiner was in the rowboat.  The plane is jointly owned by Yager and Kenneth and Alfred Bunyard, of Randall Place, Pelham Manor, young aviation enthusiasts who operate the seaplane from a base near the New York Athletic Club.  Victor R. Carpenter of North Pelham, was attorney for Yager at the trial.  

Shiner and two friends came from the Bronx to spend the day bathing at Hunter Island.  It is reported that he hired the rowboat and the trio changed into bathing suits and left their clothing in the boat.  Shiner left his friends at Hunter Island while he went rowing.  As he passed through the channel between the islands, Yager came taxiing out of the plane base in the seaplane.  On one side of the flier was a cabin cruiser, so he changed his course.

Shiner, in the rowboat, saw the plane swing over toward him and becoming panicky, he dove overboard.  As he did so the boat was thrown over directly in the path of the oncoming plane.  Yager tried to raise the plane off the water's surface, but was unable to do so before it crashed against the rowboat, sinking it, about 50 feet from the Glen Island wall.  The propeller and the left pontoon of the plane were damaged.

Both Shiner and Yager swam to shore.  Patrolman Lewis T. O'Dell of the harbor police took charge of the case.  Yager and Shiner were taken to New Rochelle Hospital for treatment, but neither was found to be severely hurt.  Shiner filed a charge of assault by an airplane against Yager.

Shiner's clothing and the clothing of  his friends at Hunter's Island was lost when the rowboat sank.  The trio were taken to City Island by Patrolman O'Dell and outfitted with clothing enough to return home in.

When Acting Judge Leo Fallon called the case on Tuesday morning, Shiner failed to appear.  The charge was dismissed."

"SEAPLANE SINKS ROWBOAT; ROWER SWIMS ASHORE -- Queer Crash Off Travers Island Results in Charge of Assault With an Airplane, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 6, 1935, Vol. 26, No. 22, p. 1, col. 3.  

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