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Eugene Rodgers on: The Mission to Rescue Gould
Eugene Rodgers Q: Can you tell us how Byrd behaved before and during the mission to rescue Gould?

ER: The geologist on the expedition, Lawrence Gould, had flown out to the Rockefeller Mountains to stay for a few days and collect rocks and draw geological maps and do other geological studies. And while he was there the plane that he had flown there in was swept away by a windstorm and demolished. With it the radio that was on the plane. The radio they had in the tent with them didn't work. So there was no way to tell Byrd what had happened. So back at Little America, all Byrd and his people back there knew was that they hadn't heard from this field party in days. And they grew worried that some accident, some terrible accident had befallen the men. So they had to go rescue the men. Byrd had another airplane ready, the airplane could hold only five people, but there had to be a pilot and a radio man. And Byrd who could not pilot himself because he was a poor pilot had to go along because he was the leader. So that left only two men. So ah, they would have had to fly two planes to rescue the party. It was very awkward that Byrd couldn't fly himself. Besides being a poor pilot it was obvious from this instant that Byrd himself was afraid to fly.

Dean Smith recalls getting ready to make that flight. He would be the pilot. And sitting in the plane with the engines revving up and the propellers going and no Byrd, when the point of time came for the take-off, no Byrd. So he went to Byrd's room and Byrd was in his room with the door locked. And he said to the doctor, what's the matter? And the doctor said, well, Byrd is in there praying. And after a while Byrd asked Dean Smith to send the doctor back again. So the doctor came back, Dean Smith says, carrying some brandy for Byrd. So Dean Smith said that Byrd was getting a little drunk even as a lot of people do now who are white knuckle flyers. Finally Byrd went out to the plane and Dean described his face as white as snow, and Byrd looking almost like a dead man just walking like a zombie toward the plane. Byrd was afraid to fly. Others on the expedition have said this too. Henry Harrison who was the meteorologist on the expedition told me that he thought Byrd was afraid to fly. Balchen thought he was afraid to fly. Dean Smith said he was afraid to fly. But the important thing to remember is that although Byrd was terrified of flying, he flew, he made these dangerous flights in these dangerous airplanes. And all the people who told me that Byrd was afraid to fly also say, but the fact that he did fly showed what guts the man had.


Q: What happened when he landed with Gould?

ER: On the rescue flight to the Rockefeller Mountains when Byrd went to rescue Gould, the airplane approached the Rockefellers, and they weren't sure exactly where Gould and his party were. So they went to the most likely spot, didn't see anybody, started to turn the plane around. And when the pilot Dean Smith, saw a flash of light. And he looked down and there on the ground were flares set out and a T marked out on the ice. And there were three men standing by the T. The T was a landing site. The men had found the best place to land in the area. So Dean Smith decided to land. Well, Byrd wasn't sure they should land. And in fact he was terrified about what might happen if they tried to land on the rough ice, the unknown ice. So he said, you're not going to land are you? And Dean Smith said, yes I am. And according to Smith, Byrd then leaned over him and grabbed him and tried to pull him away from the controls. And he and Dean Smith had a fight in this plane as the plane was landing. And Smith, who was a big man, turned, got the seatbelt off, and turned around and shoved Byrd into the back of the plane. Told the radioman to hold Byrd, and then turned around and was able to grab the controls just before the plane would have crashed, leveled off and landed. The plane landed with a big slap of the skis and the plane shook and trembled and then came to a stop. Byrd got out of the plane, threw down his sleeping bag and knelt down for a few moments in thankful prayer. So it was an incident that showed how afraid Byrd was of flying and how panicky he got. But also how religious the man was. He was a very religious person

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