Corning Pilot Tells Of Ship Being Bogged Down by Ice, of Being Jailed in West Indies and of Crack-Up
Ice Formed On Wings
IT was a bleak December day when Costa took his heavily-laden monoplane, spotless white, off the ground at Big Flats into the dawn. Thereafter his friends in Corning followed avidly the meagre reports of his progress until a week later he arrived at his first destination in Para. Later Costa tried a flight from Para to Rio De Janeiro, coming down in the mountains scarcely 100 miles from his goal.
While a circle of friends listened with bated breath, the young flier today told the full story of his amazing trip for the first time.
Danger trailed his silver plane from the moment it disappeared from the view of the friends who watched him take off from Big Flats. A mist formed over his plane that began to turn to ice after Costa had been half an hour in the air, he said. By the time he was nearing Williamsport, Pa., the plane was settling gradually, bogged down by the weight of ice.
In a ticklish spot already over the mountains of Pennsylvania, Costa found himself pushed down until close to the ground he finally found a current of warm air to deice his wings. Thereafter things went swimmingly as the plane slipped over the Atlantic states.
But toward afternoon fog gathered. Flying at 300 feet from the ground, Costa said he found himself going south on the very route, and at the same level, that planes were flying north from Florida Air races. Twice he harrowingly missed plowing head-on into big Douglas planes; so he decided to “sit down" in Jacksonville overnight. The next day he went on to Miami, his original destination.
Assured that his plane would be all set for him to leave at 8 a. m. the next day, he went to the airport in Miami to find not a soul around. Held up until mid-morning. he found night closing in on him as he skimmed the West Indies toward San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then, looking down, to his horror he said he saw that a gas line had sprung a leak. Airports are few and far between in the Indies, and so are good landing spots. Furthermore, Haiti and the Dominion Republic are two separate countries that occupy the island of Haiti, and Costa had permission to land in Haiti but not Santo Domingo.
Held In Jail
Being then, over Haiti, he looked for a place to land, finally spotted an open field beside a military outpost on the bank of a little stream. There he came to earth.
Soldiers trotted up. One clapped him on the back. He didn't know what they were asking him and he couldn't answer them. Finally, one man who knew a few English words took his passport and said he would have to check with the governor of the island to find out what sort of man had come into their midst. Meanwhile, Joe, consulting his maps, discovered to his sorrow that little stream separated Haiti from Santo Domingo, and that he was about 30 steps over the line into the latter country.
The end was not yet. The soldiers searched him and found ammunition in his jacket and a revolver in his plane. Then they saw his '“Vary gun," which shoots a signal something like a Roman candle, and the sight of the big barrel convinced them it was young cannon and their prisoner must be a dangerous man. So the Corning aviator ended up in jail.
Philosophically he went to bed. At 3 a. m. amid great excitement the soldiers woke him up, informed him he was free, and turned him out of the cell where he was just beginning to get comfortable. The officer who knew a little English offered to buy his gun. When the Corning flier refused and gave him the weapon instead, the day was thoroughly saved “I believe he would have bought me a new plane after that.” said Costa. They feasted him on pineapples, bananas, and oranges for breakfast and sent him on his way.
Lands At Trinidad
From Puerto Rico to Trinidad Costa had some 600 miles of blank ocean to fly. Watching his airspeed, his compass, and his watch, he aimed straight for Trinidad, and amid a fog, hit it "dead on the nose" just at the time he calculated. His course en route lay close to a little island with a military post, an island which he learned later is carefully circled to eastward by pilots. But Costa's beeline lay just off the west coast.
About a mile from the Island he felt his plane shimmy, shake, tremble, crack, and jump as possessed of a demon. The young flier sald be had to hold fast to the side with one hand while trying to guide the plane with the other.
The plane began to settle even at top speed, Costa said. Deciding that if his ship was going to fall to pieces, there was no need of putting on the pressure, the pilot eased off the throttle. Then qw the ship dropped so it barely skimmed the ocean, it emerged from the turbulent winds that ringed the island and sailing was smooth again,
Not stopping at Trinidad, Costa went straight for Dutch Guiana and thence to Para, Brazil.
The aviator said he found the tropic weather highly disconcerting. One moment he would be drifting along under a bright and blazing sky, and the next a sudden storm would blot out all vision and force him to fly blind.
The storms passed in a few minutes as quickly as they came.
Fuel Pump Trouble
More sinister, Costa said was the constant trouble he experienced with his fuel pump. On each hop, about three hours away from port, a control pin in the pump snapped. The result was to drop a certain gear loose inside the mechanism. Every time that happened there was the threat that the loose gear would land in the engine. The result “The engine would have blown up”, Costa said with a shrug.
At Para, where Costa stayed with an untie also named Joseph Costa, the fuel pump was repaired.
Finally he decided he was ready for the most dangerous trip of all, non-stop across the mountainous jungles of Brazil into Rio de Janeiro. He was told, he said, that the peaks were a maximum of 3.000 feet high. Flying through lowering tropical rains and mountain fogs that kept him out of sight of the earth for all but two hours of his flight of more than 11 hours, Costa said he was all right at first while keeping 13,000 to 14,000 feet above the jungle.
But after a time he dropped closer to earth, though still keeping safely above the 3,000 mark specified to him as a minimum. Peaks began looming up in the fog 50 and 100 feet below him, he said. Meanwhile the ceiling was lowering fast, night was falling, gas was running low, and he was an hour's ride from Rio. Through a break in the clouds, he said, he saw one narrow ridge that looked like a place for a forced landing.
It ran about 300 feet slightly downhill, then 300 feet upwards, enough of a grade to bring his plane to a safe halt.
Gauging his landing perfectly, he came to earth near the upcurve and bumped over the ground at about 30 miles an hour. Just as he was congratulating himself at his success in making a forced landing undamaged, there came a rending crash, the plane rolled over on one wing, and his head smashed into the cowling glass.
His landing gear, he said, had struck a big ant hill, breaking off the wheels, The ant hill he said was hard as a-rock, ripped through the fuselage, His nose cut by the glass, his plane damaged, Costa said he got out amid a steady downpour of rain. The airship was on the edge of à steep hill. For six hours he lay under the shelter of one wing until villagers from Bicentarialo de Serro, six miles away, found him.
He had taken the precaution of circling over the village — incidentally frightening the natives so that, he says, one woman ran for an idol and prayed fervently to keep the world from coming to an end — and he used his Vary pistol to give sígnals. The hard going through the jungle held up the rescue party.
In Bicentenario, it seems, Costas was entertained like a conquering hero. He had his picture taken with the mayor and saw what sights there were to sea in the interior village. The pride of the little village is its museum of Indian relics. And amid these relics, Costa says, rests all that remains of the “Crystal City," his plane.
The crash, a 25 days of rain that warped the ship all out of shape, ended its usefulness as a flying machine, Costa said. So he presented it to the museum.
The engine was not damaged and he took it to Rio. That took over two months, he said. He said that six teams of oxen were needed to haul the engine from the ridge into Bicentenario, and the roundabout truck-train route thence into Rio took 30 days.
Meanwhile Costa went by military plane to Belle Horizonte, capita! of the state of Minas Geraes, and into Rio on a mailplane. Me spent several weeks in Ria arranging for getting his engine shipped through and trying to sell it. Salesmanship in the Latin countries, he found is not what it is up north “It takes them a long time to make Up their minds, he said. When the prospective purchasers did decide, it was against taking the engine, which he brought back with him to this country
To Sell Engine
Costa was in Brazil in the season of street carnivals, and friends he made in Belle Horizonte looked out for the young aviator. In fact, he says, they had » “Joe Costa day'' at the carnival in order to get him to come down from Rio. The return trip by water took 14 days, Costa said. “It seems mighty good to be back in Corning," he declared, Costa says he expects to sell the engine. For the future? Costa says he has no immediate plans for getting a new plane, although he expects to have one some time. And the long deferred trip to Portugal?
“Well, I've had enough excitement for one vear,” he answers. Costa brought back with him several thick packets of first-day covers sent with his plane by the Crystal City Stamp Society