Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr. – First Lieutenant, United States Army

Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr. was born in Georgia.  He was appointed from Mississippi to the United States Military Academy, where he graduated in 1908.  He served in the Cuban Pacification Action in 1908 and 1909.  He was then assigned to the Aviation Section in 1912.  He was killed in an aircraft accident at College Park, Maryland, 11 June 1912.

Courtesy of the Empire State Aerosciences Museum:

“Two Airmen Are Killed, Lieut. L. W. Hazelhurst and Arthur L. Welsh the Victims.
Frightful Accident on Army Aviation Field;
Wings of Wright Aeroplane Collapse Without Warning.
Welsh Was Teacher for Wright Brothers,
Was Making Test to Meet Government Requirements,
With Lieut. Hazelhurst as Passenger
Young Army Officer, Third to Be Killed Was Macon, Ga. Man
Welsh Leaves Family
Chattanooga, Tennessee, Daily Times,
June 12, 1912,
Transcribed by Bob Davis – 8-22-05

“Washington, June 11, 1912 – Another fearful toll was taken by aviation tonight when the mutilated bodies of Lieut. Leighton W. Hazelhurst, Jr., Seventeenth Infantry, U.S.A., and Arthur L. Welsh, a professional aviator in the employ of the Wright brothers, were taken from the debris of a collapsed aeroplane. The accident occurred while they were attempting to make the test required by the government in a machine contracted for by the war department.

Although an army board was immediately appointed to determine the cause of the accident, it is probable the real cause of the machine's failure never will be known. The crash came so suddenly and unexpectedly that the two men met their death without being able to make a single move to arrest their fall. Seven army air men were among the score of spectators, but they can not explain the accident.

It was shortly after 6 o'clock that the Wright machine was run out in front of the long line of hangars. For several days Aviator Welsh, whose home is in this city, had been busy demonstrating the aeroplane. All of the war department's requirements had been met except a climb of 2,000 feet within ten minutes, carrying a load of 450 pounds. Welsh knew the machine was capable of meeting the test, for it had been accomplished at Dayton, Ohio, by Orville Wright before it was taken to College Park, and he had been made; impatient by several failures.

“I'm going to make that climb tonight or know the reason why” he said as he began to tune up. “I am tired fooling” he added.

A few minutes later he announced that he was ready. Lieut. W. Hazelhurst followed Welsh into the machine, taking the passenger's seat. The aeroplane moved off steadily and flew the length of the field, rising 200 feet. As it was turned toward the group of army officers before the hangars, Welsh dived sharply to indicate that he was ready for the stiff test climb.

The dip carried the machine to within about seventy-five feet of the ground, and it then straightened out sharply, too quickly, the observing army officers thought. Without warning the aluminum wings crumbled or collapsed upward, so that they almost met above the engine. The machine dropped, then turned her nose toward the earth and dived.

Bodies of Victims Are Badly Mangled

The accident occurred about 1,000 feet from the hangars, and when the first witness reached the wreck it was seen that both of the men were dead. Welsh was buried in the debris, but the body of Hazelhurst had been catapulted fully twenty feet away as the machine struck. Welsh's clothes were practically torn from his body, which was bruised and battered. Hazelhurst's skull was fractured and his head badly disfigured.

Death to both of the men had probably been instantaneous. Their bodies were rushed in army automobiles to Walter Reed hospital, in this city. Five minutes after the flight began the flag over the aviation field was at half mast.

Capt. Charles Def Chandler, commanding the Army Aviation Corps, at once convened a board of inquiry, consisting of seven army officers who had witnesses to the catastrophe. A preliminary inquest shed little light upon the cause of the tragedy, as night fall made it necessary to postpone the investigation until tomorrow.

The officers who are making the investigation are Capt. F. B. Hennessey, president; Capt. Paul W. Beck, Lieuts. Harry Graham, R. C. Kirtland, and T. Dew Milling. Lieut. William C. Sheeman of the engineer school, Washington, and Lieut. B. D. Foulois, an army aviator, will be among the important witnesses. As the gathering dust (should be dusk) made impossible a careful examination of the wrecked machine, it was kept intact today in the hope that a fuller examination tomorrow might partly reveal the cause of the accident.

Many new features were embodied in the machine, evolved as a result of Orville Wright's experiments at Kill Devil Hill, N.C. last summer. The Wright brothers always built comparatively slow aircraft, but the government required that the new machine should make forty-five miles an hour. In speed trials several days ago, 50.8 miles was attained. It was estimated that it was making about forty five miles an hour when the fatal plunge came. The wings of the craft were aluminum instead of canvas, but in appearance it was much like the earlier machines. It (the wingspan) was narrower by one foot, but with a vertical rudder a bit larger. The six cylinder engine was fifty horsepower, instead of thirty. The opinion was expressed tonight that the engine was in no wise responsible for the disaster.

Lieut. Hazelhurst was in his twenty-sixth year and was unmarried. The family home is Macon, Ga., but he was appointed to West Point from Mississippi, being graduated and commissioned as second lieutenant in 1908. He had been with the aviation corps since last March when he was detained to it at Augusta, Ga., the winter camp.

Mr. Welsh, for several years a resident of Washington, had for three years been with the Wright brothers, conducting many of their exhibition flights. He had made a number of public appearances, and after the Wrights abandoned exhibition flights, became one of their instructors. He is survived by his wife and a 8 year-old daughter.

Lieut.Hazelhurst is the third army officer to die in an aeroplane plunge. Lieut. Thomas E. Selfridge met death in a machine that fell with him and Orville Wright at Ft. Meyer, Va., in September 1908, and Lieut. G.E.M. Kelly received a fatal fall on an army aviation field at San Antonio, Tex., last year.

Lieutenant Hazelhurst and Al Welsh, Professional Aviator, Victims of Airship Test
Up in New Wright Flier
Military Death Toll In This Country Brought Up To Four – First Fatality at College Park

WASHINGTON, June 11, 1912 – Lieutenant Leighton W. Hazelhurst, Jr., of the Seventeenth Infantry, one of the most promising of the younger aviators of the Army, and Al Welsh, one of the most daring professional aviators in American, were instantly killed in a flight at the Army Aviation School at College Park, Maryland, at 6:30 o’clock this evening.

They had just left the ground in a new Wright “Army Flier” which was receiving its official climbing test when the biplane, rounding a turn, pitched forward and fell like a plummet, a distance of about thirty feet.  In an instant the new army flier, in which General James Allen of the Signal Corps had invested great hopes and expectations, was a crumpled mass of debris upon the ground.  Lieutenant Hazelhurst and Welsh were thrown out of their seats by the impact.  Hazelhurst’s neck was broken and Welsh’s skull as crushed.

The new Wright machine, which recently arrived here from Dayton, Ohio, was being put through next to the final round of an official test.  It has completed the speed and other tests and nothing but the climbing and endurance tests remained to be accomplished.  The climbing test was to the machine’s specialty.  It was also the hardest requirement.  The specifications called for a straightaway climb to an altitude of 2,000 feet, nearly half a mile, inside of ten minutes, with 450 pounds dead weight aboard, besides the gasoline, oil and water.  Lieutenant Hazelhurst weighed 175 pounds, Welsh weight 150 pounds and 125 pounds of gun shot had to be carried to weight down the machine to the carrying load required by the specifications.

After making several beautiful flights in the new machine, Welsh announced at 6:15 o’clock that he was ready to make the climbing test – next to the last of the ten requirements asked of the machine by the War Department specifications.  With Lieutenant Hazelhurst as his passenger, Welsh entered his seat and off the machine shot like a bird.  They climbed rapidly on the first circuit of the field, and when they reached the north end of the field and were making the turn, the biplane suddenly pitched forward and plunged to the earth.  This occurred shortly after Welsh had indulged in a slight dip of his craft as a signal to the officers to take time on the start of the long upward climb.

The little group of officers standing near the hangars, the men who constituted the official board in charge of the test, never dreamed that the fall from so low an altitude would have such serious results.  They rushed up to the crumbled biplane to find both men had been instantly killed.

Those in this group were Captain Charles De Forest Chandler, Commanding Officer of the Army Aviation School; Captain Paul Beck, the veteran Curtiss machine flier of the Army; Lieutenant Harry Graham, one of the new aviators; Lieutenant Roy C. Kirtland; Lieutenant Henry H. Arnold; and Lieutenant Thomas DeWitt Milling, all experienced members of the Army Aerial Squad.

An hour before the accident occurred Lieutenant Hazelhurst, who wanted to return to Washington early tonight, had asked Captain Frederick F. Hennessy of the Third Field Artillery, now stationed at College Park as a student of the Curtiss biplane, whether be would be willing to take his place in the Wright machine with Welsh, but just as Welsh was running the Wright biplane our of its hangar, Lieutenant Milling, who is instructing Captain Hennessy, directed him to enter the Curtiss machine.  Captain Hennessy did this, while Lieutenant Hazelhurst clambered through the wires into the Wright flier, only to meet his death a few minutes later.

Welsh had been at College Park almost a week demonstrating the new Wright flier, built along special lines for the Government, and regarded by the late Wilbur Wright as the best craft he and his brother had ever built.  It had to meet ten very rigid tests, and Army men believed it would fulfill every expectation.  General Allen, who had been observing its behavior at College Park for the last few days, was delighted with the showing of the new flier.  It acted beautifully.  In very flight except the final one it responded perfectly to every manipulation of its levers by Welsh.

The Wright aviator was jubilant and today expressed the desire to finish the tests this afternoon so that he might go home tonight.  During the afternoon Lieutenant Hazelhurst had made several pretty flights with Welsh and just before he stepped into the biplane Lieutenant Hazelhurst told Captain Chandler that upon returning from the high climb he thought he would be willing to make his test for his regular license as a pilot before sunset.  He had been under instruction by Lieutenant Milling and ready to try for his license.

So it was with smiles, characteristic of both men, and especially of Hazlehurst’s, that they climbed into the flier and were whirled away.  At the time there were four other machined out of the hangars – two Wright and two Curtiss biplanes – ready for a gala roundup of this afternoon’s work, but the accident put a sudden stop to the demonstrations and depressed beyond expression the little colony of military aviators.

When found the bodies of the aviators were several feet from the machine.  They had evidently been thrown from their seats as the craft plunged toward the ground.  Welsh’s head was a mass of blood.  Hazelhurst was on the ground with his neck twisted toward the right.  He seemed to have died without a struggle.  He wore special headgear, but it gave no protection against the breaking of his neck.  Welsh wore no headgear.  It is believed by Army officers that he might not have been killed had he wore such protection.  The men were taken on stretchers to the hangars, placed in a fast automobile and rushed to the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Takoma Park.

The body of Lieutenant Hazelhurst will be shipped probably to Georgia.  Welsh’s body will be sent to New York on Thursday.

The deaths of Hazelhurst and Welsh mark the first accident of any kind among Army aviators at College Park.  The accident brings the death toll of American Army aviators up to four.  The first to lose his life was Lieutenant “Tom” Selfridge, killed in September 1910, at Fort Myer in a fall somewhat similar to that of today during the test of an original Army Wright flier.

Orville Wright, who was then piloting the craft, was seriously hurt and lingered under treatment at an Army hospital six weeks and recovered.  Selfridge was a passenger.  In the second Army accident, Lieutenant John Kelley was killed at San Antonio in March 1911. Kelley was in actual manipulation of the machine.  Hazelhurst, like Selfridge, was only a passenger.

Lieutenant Hazelhurst was a newcomer at the Aviation School, and he had just been taught to fly one of the Wright machines and was considered one of Captain Chandler’s most promising pupils.  Born in Georgia July 25, 1886, he was appointed from Mississippi, entering West Point in 1904.  He was commissioned Second Lieutenant of the Seventeenth Infantry February 12, 1908.  He joined the Army Aviation Squad in March.

Welsh was living in Washington when he joined the Wright Brothers who had come here in 1907 to make their first demonstrations at Fort Myer.  He had become famous at the Wright School at Dayton as an instructor.

Captain Chandler, commanding the Army Aviation Corps, at once convened a Board of Inquiry consisting of seven Army officers who had been witnesses to the catastrophe.  A preliminary inquest shed little light upon the cause of the tragedy as nightfall made it necessary to postpone the investigation until tomorrow.

The officers who are making the investigation are: Captain F. B. Hennessy, President; Captain Paul W. Beck; Lieutenants Harry Graham, R. C. Kirtland, and T. De W. Milling.  Lieutenant William C. Sherman of the Engineers School, Washington, and Lieutenant B. D. Foulois, an Army aviator, will be among the important witnesses.  As the gathering dusk made impossible a careful examination of the wrecked machine, it was kept intact tonight in the hopes that a fuller examination tomorrow might reveal the causes of the accident.

Many new features were embodied in the machine, evolved as a result of Orville Wright’s experiments at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina, last Summer.  The Wright Brothers always built comparatively slow craft but the Government required that the new machine should make 45 miles an hour.  In speed trials several days ago 50.8 was attained.  It was estimated that it was making about 45 miles an hour when the fatal plunge came.

The wings of the craft were of aluminum instead of canvas, but in appearance it was much like earlier machines.  It was narrower by one foot, but with a vertical rudder a little larger.  The six cylinder engine was of 50 horse power instead of 30.  The pinion was expresses tonight that the engine was nowise responsible for the disaster.

His Grave Beside That of Selfridge Who Lost His Life In Aviation

WASHINGTON, June 14, 1912 – Lieuenant Leighton W. Hazelhurst, the Army Officer who was killed in the fall of a biplane on the Government Aviation Field here on Tuesday, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery early today with unusual military honors.

Though the Army regulations call for only a platoon of Infantry for an officer of his rank, the entire garrison of Fort Myer, consisting of the First Squadron of the Fifteenth Cavalry, the Second Battalion of the Third Field Artillery, the Cavalry Band and every officer and enlisted man of the Aviation Corps were turned out. Orville Wright also attended.

Eight other aviator officers were honorary bearers, and the body bearers were enlisted men of the Aviation School.  Lietuannt Hazelhurst's body was burired beside the grave of Lieutenant Selfridge, the first United States Army officer togive his life for the development of aviation.


WASHINGTON, June 14, 1912 – Lieutenant Leighton W. Hazelhurst, Jr., the young Georgia Army officer who was killed at College Park Monday afternoon in the fall in a Wright biplane, was buried at Arlington Cemetery today at noon with full military honors.  Funeral services were conducted by Chaplain W. M. Brander of the Fifteenth Cavalry, of Fort Myer, Virginia.

A large number of Army officers attended the funeral.  Brother aviators acting as honorary pallbearers were Captain Charles De Forrest Chandler, commanding officer of the aviation school; Captain Paul W. Beck, Captain Frederick B. Hennessy, Lieutenant Thomas DeWitt Milling, Lieutenant Roy C. Kirtland, Lieutenant Henry A. Arnold and Lieutenant Harry Graham.  Lieutenant Colonel George P. Seriven and Captain Reynolds J. Burt of the Signal Corps and Orville Wright were among those also attending.  Six enlisted men were active pallbearers.  They wore full-dress uniforms.  Eighteen other enlisted men from College Park acted as an escort of honor.  The casket was carried on a caisson.

At Arlington the funeral cortege was met by a troop of cavalry and field artillery as an escort of honor.  The usual salute was fired and “Taps” was sounded by a bugler from Fort Myer.

The parents of Lieutenant Hazelhurst and a brother, Dorr Hazlehurst, arrived in the city from Evansville, Indiana, yesterday afternoon.  Another brother, E. D. Hazelhurst, and wife, reached this city this morning from Memphis, Tennessee.

Arthur (Al) L. Welsh, the professional who was killed in the same machine, was buried yesterday afternoon in the Jewish cemetery (Adas Israel cemetery on Alabama Ave., in S.E. Washington, D.C.).

A very early military aviator, he was killed in an air crash on June 11, 1912 and was buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery, near the grave of the first military casualty of an air crash, Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.

HAZELHURST FIELD: 1915, Nassau County, Hempstead Plains,New York. In 1917 when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the Army converted a two year old National Guard Base , on the former site of Camp Black, to Hazelhurst Field. Named for Leighton Hazelhurst the first NCO killed in an aviation accident. Civilian aviation field after World War I. Renamed Curtis Field 1920-1929 and merged with adjacent Roosevelt Field and renamed Roosevelt Field 1929-1951. Closed 1951, for construction of first shopping mall in the U.S. (Roosevelt Field)


The field was named in honor of Second Lieutenant Leighton W. Hazelhurst, Jr., 17th Inf., who was killed in an aviation accident, June 11, 1912.

Hazelhurst Field, New York was a temporary flying field under lease, located on the Hempstead Plains at Mineola, Long Island.The field was also known as aviation Field No. 1 and included included Field No. 2, later known as Mitchel Field. The field was named in honor of Second Lieutenant Leighton W. Hazelhurst, Jr., 17th Infantry, who was killed in an aviation accident, June 11,1912.


DATE OF DEATH: 06/11/1912
Arlington National Cemetery

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