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When 'Lindy' Came To Town (Belize) By Neil Fraser
In the opening sequence of the old TV program Fantasy Island a little man is excitedly calling "De plane! De plane!" It always reminded me of Belize where, as children, at the rare sound of an approaching aircraft we would cry out "A plane!" while running to our verandahs to see what the sky was bringing to this remote place we called home.
December 30, 1927
Belize, and all Central American nations, took to the air age early and quickly. The lack of roads and railways, formidable jungles and mountains, long journeys by sea, all made airplanes the ideal way of reaching the cities, towns and outposts of these countries. The age of air transport was introduced to Belize on December 30, 1927, by none other than the "Lone Eagle" himself, Colonel Charles Lindbergh.
Lindbergh, a great believer in the future of air transport, was retained by the founders of Pan American Airways to scout Central America and the Caribbean for future air routes. After his transatlantic triumph, he set off to make a quick goodwill tour, departing just before Christmas 1927. The first leg of this, Lindbergh's second historic flight, took him from Washington, DC, to Mexico City. From there the Spirit of St. Louis winged its way to Guatemala City, then to Belize, arriving two days before New Year's. The estimated arrival time at each of Lindbergh's stops was sent ahead by wireless. It is a tribute to his skill as a pilot that he was almost exactly on schedule reaching each destination. Coming into Belize from the south and flying in overcast weather, he strayed out over the water. Letting down through the clouds, he swung west to make a landfall around Stann Creek (now Dangriga). Turning back to the north, he soon arrived over Belize to the excitement of waiting crowds below. The only available landing place in Belize was what Lindbergh, in his autobiography, called "a polo field". It is that area known as The Barracks on the North side of the city where the Golf and Polo Clubs were located...as well as the insane asylum. The open field, bordered by water on one side, was the site of polo, soccer and cricket matches. Until the present municipal airport was constructed in the late 1930s, it was also the landing field for aircraft coming into Belize.
The Spirit of St. Louis landed safely and was immediately surrounded by the people of Belize. One of those on the welcoming committee was my grandfather, Dr. James Cran. The welcoming celebrations included speeches at the Golf Club and the Polo Club, and a parade through the city to Government House. Photos of Lindbergh's visit to Belize provide an interesting insight into the prevailing dress code of the time. In that tropical climate everyone in the photos is formally clad in suits and wearing hats. Lindbergh himself appears to have stepped from the cockpit wearing a suit and holding his fedora. One photo shows Lindbergh working on the engine of his aircraft while wearing his hat, with the sleeves of his white shirt partially rolled up and his tie protectively tucked into his shirt. In this photo, Lindbergh is making a minor repair to the Spirit of St. Louis. Its engine apparently broke a valve spring which the versatile aviator replaced. Somehow my family obtained the broken part. It was an almost sacred relic kept in our dining room's china closet, a rusting piece of metal beside my mother's finest china and glassware: A piece of Lindbergh's airplane. After departing from Belize, Lindbergh piloted the Spirit of St. Louis through the capitol cities of the Central American republics and to the Panama Canal Zone. From there he swung around the northern coast of South America and headed north again via the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. He departed Havana in early February of 1928, returning to U.S. airspace near Fort Myers, continuing on non-stop across Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee and finally landing at his home base in St. Louis. There the Spirit of St. Louis was retired into history, eventually to hang from the ceiling of the Smithsonian.
February 4, 1929
Lindbergh's next trip to Central America started in the early morning of his birthday, February 4, 1929. This time at the controls of a Sikorsky S-36 twin-engined amphibian, he lifted off the runway at Miami on the first leg of a 2,327 mile flight to Cristobal in the Panama Canal Zone. It was the inauguration flight of Pan American's mail and later passenger service to the Caribbean basin. A crowd of more than 1,000 people, some in evening clothes, were on hand to watch his dawn departure and the dawn of the air age in Central America. The S-36 Lindbergh piloted on this trip was only the second such aircraft built by Sikorsky under a contract with Pan American signed the year before. On board, in addition to Lindbergh, were Colonel Juan Hambledon, Vice President of Pan Am as co-pilot, and Henry L. Buskey as mechanic and radio operator. Pan American's president, Juan Tripp e, rode as a passenger.
After refueling stops in Cuba, the S-36 left bound for Belize, crossing the Yucatan Channel then hugging the coastline southward until its arrival in Belize at 2:55 p.m. The people of Belize, expecting the flight, had been making hasty preparations. My father, C. N. Fraser, who then was an engineer with the British Honduras Public Works, designed and had constructed a wooden ramp extending out into the water offshore from the Barracks. The ramp allowed the amphibious aircraft to lower its wheels in the water then taxi up onto the shore, where a 20- foot square platform waited for unloading and loading. Lindbergh made a smooth water landing, taxied up the ramp as planned, then ran off the end of the platform, bogging the amphibian's wheels into the soft earth. The slight mishap did not dim the jubilation and the ceremonies surrounding Lindbergh's second arrival in Belize. Festivities included the usual speeches at the Golf Club, a dinner and reception at Government House, and then another speechmaking reception at the Polo Club, where Lindbergh stated: "I want to tell you that I am glad to be back in Belize once again, and particularly on the first flight of a service linking Belize, not only with the United States but also with Central and South America. I hope that before long these planes will not only land here once in two weeks but once each day, and I think I can assure you that before many months will have passed that will be realized." Earlier in the day Lindbergh took the governor, Sir John Burdon, and his party for a ride in the Sikorsky while making an aerial survey of the area looking for a possible airport site.
At 9:10 a.m. on February 5, the Sikorsky departed Belize headed for Managua and on to Cristobal in the Canal Zone, arriving there in the afternoon of February 6. At every stop along the way it was greeted by throngs of cheering people. Air transport had arrived in Central America. Belize and the other Central American nations owe a debt of gratitude to
Preprinted with permission from www.belizefirst.com. BELIZE FIRST MAGAZINE, VOLUME II, NUMBER 2