Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pilot Mikey Ciprianidies in plane crash

T&T thrown into mourning in 1934


IN MEMORY: The tombstone at Mucurapo cemetery where Cipriani was buried.

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Mikey Cipriani is Trinidad and Tobago's first known aviator.

He would also become, 78 years ago, one of Trinidad's first aviation victims, when his aircraft crashed in the Northern Range.

Cipriani was 42 years old.

Long before that, he cheated death, during his military service in World War I.

He was among a few who survived when Britain suffered the loss of 1,600 frontline fighters during the engagement between German and British forces in the Battle of Mons in 1914.

It was there Trinidad-born Cipriani served during World War I.

At the end of the war he was decorated with the Medal of Mons, a small token of appreciation from Britain.

Mons is a city in Belgium, which has been selected to be the European capital of culture in 2015.

Already recognised as the local hero of aviation, Cipriani also pioneered the effort to establish an airport in Tobago.

He died in a plane crash on June 3, 1934, while on his way to establish the airport in Tobago to serve as an air link between Trinidad and Tobago.

The decomposing bodies of Cipriani and his friend, Leslie Bradshaw, were found in the mountainous region of Brasso Seco, 11 days after the fatal crash.

They were on their way to make the first ever landing of an aircraft in Tobago.

Cipriani's wife, Daisy, was scheduled to travel with him on the historic flight, but was unable, so he took Bradshaw instead, in his two-seater plane named Humming Bird.

The take-off at Mucurapo was witnessed by hundreds. His body was buried at Mucurapo cemetery on June 13, not far from where the fatal trip started.

It was suggested that the crash might have been caused by hazy, overcast conditions over the Northern Range.

The cause remains unknown.

The death of Cipriani and the loss of his plane brought an immediate halt to the government's plan to link Trinidad and Tobago by air.

After the crash, several groups of volunteers, including boy scouts and girl guides, combed the forest for days in search of Cipriani's plane. After eight days of search, the wreckage was found in an area overlooking the village of Brasso Seco.

Among the items recovered from the crash site was a compass used during the flight. That artefact is now lodged at the Visitors Centre at Brasso Seco in a glass cupboard.

The remains of Cipriani and Bradshaw were taken to Port of Spain amid widespread grief and buried a day later at Mucurapo cemetery on June 13.

There are residents in the rural village of Los Attajos (pronounced lasataw, meaning a short cut) who recall the incident. 

A 90-year-old resident said, "I was still at school when the incident happened.

"Three of us were pitching marbles in the road when suddenly we heard a loud noise in the air, then a loud crash in the mountain. We got frightened and ran home because we did not know what had happened.

"Later that night we were told that a plane had fallen from the sky."

He said he was among the team of villagers who had travelled to the mountain in search of the plane. 

"What led to the discovery of the plane was the trail of damage done to trees in the forest.

"Some of them looked as if they were cut with a saw or a sharp instrument."

Cipriani's funeral was reported to be one of the biggest in Port of Spain.

Some 15,000 people attended the funeral, while others lined the route where the cortege travelled to get to the cemetery.

Cipriani's first love was sports. Before leaving for England to serve in World War I, he had won many cycling races locally and in the Caribbean.

He had even crowned himself the "Cyclist of the West Indies".

As an all-round sportsman, he was deeply involved with cricket and football.

He had represented Trinidad in Barbados in 1911 in a cricket match. Added to this, he was also an accomplished boxer.

When the war started in 1914, Cipriani gave up his sporting career to join the armed forces.

On arrival in England, he was recruited in the Second Life Guards and sent to the war trenches in France.

During the Battle of Mons, he was among a few who survived German attacks.

The Mons battle signified the first engagement between British and German forces on the western front, which began on August 23, 1914.

After the war, Cipriani returned to Trinidad and engaged himself in sporting activities, but soon gave this up after he got married.

His career as an air pilot started after his wife went to England on a holiday and met a man who was pioneering the design of small aircraft.

Cipriani became excited about the prospect of becoming a pilot.

So he went to England and enrolled in a school offering training courses for pilots. 

Later he ordered a small aircraft from England, and, together with his wife, began flying from Mucurapo to Piarco.

Later on, he ventured outside Trinidad to show his flying skills.

He travelled to Grenada, then St Vincent and Barbados.

By then, he was regarded as a famous pilot, and the first in Trinidad.

His career came to an end that fateful day on June 3, 1934.