Georges Chavez (1887-1910)

Italian promoters posted a $14,000 prize for the first aviator to fly though the Simplon Pass, a height of 6,600 feet, which lay between Switzerland and Italy. Thirteen aviators entered the contest, but the race committee only accepted five who seemed to have the best credentials. One of them was a Peruvian aviator named Jorges Chavez Dartnell (who was referred to France as Georges Chavez). In preparation for the flight Chavez took his Bleriot XI up in a test flight 8,487 feet, breaking the current altitude record.

The race opened on September 18, 1910, but Swiss authorities forbade flying as it was a Swiss holiday. The next day the weather turned bad and for the next four days either the Swiss or Italian side of the pass was clouded over. Chavez took his plane up for a look and was tossed about, "The machine, it was like a toy in that wind," he said later.

On September 23, weather cleared and Chavez decided to make an attempt. Slowly his plane climbed to the top of the pass. Witnesses on the ground reported that he seemed to be hanging onto the controls as the wind tossed his craft violently around. He made it through the dangerous, twisting gorges, though, and headed for a landing at the town of Domodossola on the Italian side. As he approached the landing field he gave the Bleriot a little gas to get past a road. Then suddenly it happened. The craft was so weakened by the high winds it failed under the strain. "I saw the two wings of the monoplane suddenly flatten out and paste themselves against the fuselage," a watcher said "Chavez was about a dozen meters up; he fell like a stone." Four days later Chavez, age 23, died of massive internal injuries.