People & Events
Those who knew Floyd Bennett well often used words like steady and unspectacular in describing the explorer. They meant these words as testament to the humble quality he displayed despite being regarded as a model aviator. He was also a history-making aviator, though there is evidence that he tried to shrug off the label. In 1926, when he learned that he and Richard Byrd were going to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, he reportedly told his friend Bernt Balchen, "I don't want to go down to Washington and get another medal for that north polar thing." Balchen came to realize that Bennett's reluctance to accept accolades for his North Pole feat might have been the result of embarrassment, more then humility. Bennett was said to have confessed to Balchen that he and Byrd had come short of actually reaching the North Pole on May 9, 1926.
Floyd Bennett and Richard Byrd came to know each other when Byrd was in flight school in Pensacola, Florida. Afterwards, the two took part in the Navy-MacMillan Polar Expedition in Greenland. Over the years, Byrd came to consider Bennett his best friend.
Following their North Pole exploits, Byrd and Bennett were planning on a transatlantic flight. In April 1927, Byrd, Bennett and airplane engineer Tony Fokker took off on a test flight of Fokker's three-engine plane. The plane turned out to be nose-heavy and went crashing, nose-first, before flipping over on its side. While Byrd and Fokker escaped with minor injuries, Bennett was broke several ribs, did serious damage to his back, and punctured a lung. The injury would prevent him from joining Byrd some months later in his attempt to transport mail over the Atlantic via airplane.
Bennett was not fully recovered from his injuries when, in April, 1928, he participated on a rescue mission of downed German plane, "Bremen", in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. During the mission, Bennett contracted pneumonia and had to be rushed to a hospital in Quebec, Canada. As he neared death, Charles Lindbergh volunteered to fly serum to him from New York City. He was not in time. Floyd Bennett died on April 25, 1928. Richard Byrd was crushed by the death of his close friend and went on to name the plane that would take him over the South Pole after him.