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PILOT STORIES: McCusker, Frank

Air Mail Service Began: December 21, 1918
Air Mail Service Ended: May 25, 1919
Assignments: Belmont Park, New York
  Feb 16, 1919 – College Park, Maryland
  May 10, 1919 – Belmont Park, New York
  May 15, 1919 - Cleveland, Ohio

Frank McCusker spent his airmail service career on various routes of the Eastern Division between New York and Cleveland. On May 25, 1919, shortly after takeoff from the Cleveland field, smoke was spotted coming from his airplane. McCusker seemed to try and fight the fire in the air, but could not halt its progress. At this time, parachutes had not yet become standard equipment in airmail airplanes and McCusker faced the choice of burning to death or jumping. He chose to jump. He fractured his skull and neck on the airplane's stabilizer.

The New York Times recorded the story of McCusker's death.

Mail Air Pilot Seen by Hundreds in Plunge of 200 Feet.

Cleveland, May 25.—Hundreds of persons saw Frank McCusker of New York, pilot of a mail airplane, leap 200 feet to his death from a burning machine here today. Fifteen minutes before he had announced that he would attempt to establish a record on his flight to Chicago.

The cause of the accident is not known. Witnesses saw puffs of black smoke come from the rear of the Dehavilland. When the machine was at a height of between 200 and 400 feet McCusker was seen to climb from his seat to the frame. Then the airplane plunged and the pilot was seen to leap. The empty machine flew forward 200 yards before it plunged to the ground. McCusker was alive when picked up. He died in a police patrol while being taken to a hospital. His skull was fractured and his neck broken.

McCusker was formerly in the British naval flying corps, inspector of Dehavilland airplanes at Elizabeth, New Jersey, and instructor at the United States aviation field in Texas. His is said to be the first fatality since the inauguration of the government airplane service. Superintendent J. W. Jordan, of the Chicago-Cleveland air mail service, arranged for the care of the body and then started Pilot Lester Bishop to Chicago with the mail, which escaped [the] flames.†

† Carl B. Smith, who was killed in a crash in New Jersey on December 16, 1918, had the dubious distinction of being the first postal pilot killed on the job.

Newspaper clipping on the crash  
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Newspaper clipping on the crash

(bottom right) McCusker
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