August 23, 1928: Plane crash in St. Louis Bay claims life of pilot

On this day along the bay in 1928, pilot H. F. Williamson II crashed his Ryan monoplane plane into the Duluth-Superior Harbor off Park Point. It was the second plane crash in Duluth that month, just the third in the city’s history, and the first to end in a fatality. Williams was 24 years old, an ensign in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps and the manager of the Duluth branch of the Mid-Plane Sales & Transit Company, which owned the plane. The cause of the crash was never reported, but it was the first time Williamson had flown the plane so it may well have been caused by mechanical error or the pilot’s lack of familiarity with the craft. He had taken off from the Duluth Boat Club just five minutes earlier and made a smooth flight at  between 300 and 400 feet in the air, turned at the end of the point, and headed back to the boat club. The pilot seemed to temporary lose control of the craft, then righted it. He then went into another turn and the plane dropped from the sky. When the plane struck the water, reportedly at 110 miles per hour, Williamson’s head hit the instrument panel, likely killing him instantly. Local boaters rushed to his aid, and he was pulled from the broken craft before it settled on the bottom of the bay Marine Iron and Shipbuilding derrick later raised the plane, which Mid-Plane used for its passenger service between Duluth and Minneapolis and was regularly piloted by Lt. William Holland. Williams was the son of H. F. Williamson, who along with Luther Mendenhall owned the Big Duluth Clothing Store; the elder Williams had just died a few weeks earlier. Read more about the H. F. Williamson and his clothing stores here.

Williamson was piloting a Ryan monoplane similar to the one pictured above. (Image: Public Domain)