On the morning of April 12, in the famous ‘Bremen’ German aircraft, James Fitzmaurice - dead 51 years ago today - his German co-pilot Hermann Kohl and plane owner Ehrenfried Gunther Freiherr von Hunefeld took off from Dublin’s Baldonnel Aerodrome.
Through harsh weather conditions and a series of compass issues, the men landed on April 13 atop an iced-over reservoir on Canada’s Greenly Island. Just as the plane came to a stop, it broke through the ice and the tail projected 20 feet into the air. Everyone got wet, but everyone was safe. The telegraph message read: "German plane Bremen landed Greenly Island, noon, slightly damaged, crew well."
The crew then began a two-month tour of American and European cities to be welcomed as heroes. Watch this video of their warm welcome in Detroit:
Aviation pioneer Fitzmaurice was born in Dublin in 1898 and attended a Christian Brothers school in Portlaoise, Co Laois as a boy. In 1914 he joined the Irish National Volunteers, and at sixteen he enlisted in the seventh Battalion of the Royal Leinster Regiment (the Leinsters). He was quickly released for being underage.
Fitzmaurice enlisted in the British army again in 1915; throughout his service he held the titles of Corporal, Sergeant and Commander. He was posted to the School of Military Aeronautics and trained in Eastbourne in England. Shortly after the formation of the Irish Free State, Fitzmaurice joined the Irish Air Corps and was promoted to Captain a year later.
Days after landing the Bremen, Fitzmaurice and the two Germans the three men were presented with the United States Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight,” by former Preisdent Calvin Coolidge.
They were also granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin, and rewarded for contributions to the life of the city – 78 people have been given this award, including Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.
For the 70th anniversary of the flight, a short film was made profiling the life of Fitzmaurice with dramatic reconstruction of the flight. The Fitzmaurice Flying School opened in Baldonnel, Co. Dublin in 1998.
There is also a granite strip on New York City’s Broadway commemorating Fitzmaurice with the names of the fliers.
Today, the Bremen aircraft belongs to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI but is currently on display in a hangar at the Bremen Airport Museum in Germany where it has been completely restored.