Q: Can you tell us how Byrd behaved before and during the mission to rescue
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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