Yesterday's News

Disabled pilot's fall from sky in Henderson was one notable moment in memorable life

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
April 3, 2005

A casual observer of Morris R. "Dinger" Daugherty might conclude he was only three-quarters of a man at best. But that wouldn't take into account the size of his heart.

Daugherty may have lacked both legs and his right arm but he was a helluva a pilot and a fascinating human being. Less than six months after Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 transatlantic flight, Daugherty was planning to fly the same route.

But it was the following year before he was able to raise the money, according to a Sept. 11, 1928, article in the New York Times:

"He came to New York several weeks ago, dropping in on Curtiss Field in a plane which he flew well despite his handicaps. He found, however, that it would be impossible for him to get a plane, and also he met the opposition of pilots and others who persuaded him it would be suicidal to try an Atlantic flight with only one arm."

So, what earthly connection does a one-armed, legless pilot from New Martinsville, W.Va., have to do with Henderson County history? Well, on this date in 1930 Daugherty crash-landed his plane in a field near Fernwood Cemetery. He was briefly knocked unconscious, and broke his propellor and left wing, but was otherwise unharmed.

Daugherty was on his way home to New Martinsville from Kansas City when his compass malfunctioned and he missed the Evansville airport.

"His gasoline supply exhausted, and after circling the city a number of times in search of a landing field, he was forced to descend in a field near the cemetery, which from the air appeared to be satisfactory for landing," The Gleaner reported.

But the touchdown was a little rough and the plane overturned. "Mr. Daugherty's head was slightly injured when he was thrown against the side of the pilot's seat, and it rendered him partially unconscious for a few minutes.

"Paul Yonkers and Veto Desonis, employees of the road department, saw the crash and rushed to the scene in a truck. They helped the pilot from the plane and then brought him to the city for medical attention, but arriving uptown Mr. Daugherty found he had only been dazed by the blow and was not injured otherwise."

The pilot contacted Interstate Airlines in Evansville and the firm sent a representative to repair the plane, which was an American Eagle with special controls to accommodate his lack of appendages.

Daugherty was only 23 years old when his legs and arm were cut off in 1918 at New Martinsville. At that time he was a policeman for the B&O Railroad, and it was his job to keep hobos off the trains. "It was during the war, of course, and I had been instructed by my superiors to arrest all trespassers as a more or less patriotic duty," he related in his autobiography, "The Hobo of the Air."

He swung aboard a freight train after spotting a couple of hobos, but fell while chasing them, and was run over by about 40 coal cars.

"Those who saw me fall were horrified," Daugherty wrote. "Hundreds gathered around me, towns-people whom I had known all my life. They were terrified, dumbfounded, heart-broken. 'He can't live,' I heard somebody whisper."

Despite his injuries, Daugherty had the presence of mind to direct his own care until two doctors could arrive. He spent the next 78 days in a hospital. Along with the loss of his limbs, he also suffered a broken back.

"Now that it is all over, nothing I can do will repair the damage, and I am happy in the thought that, although I've been down, I've got up, and I've got up quite a distance since -- particularly since I took up aviation!"

Daugherty not only became a stunt pilot, he also served multiple terms as county assessor and justice of the peace in Wetzel County, W.Va. Furthermore, he raced cars and boats, rode bicycles and motorcycles, and was a detective as well as an inventor. He died in 1964.

"He was New Martinsville's unforgettable character," said Jim Fitzsimmons, to whom I am indebted for providing a photograph and much background information about his former neighbor. "He just did a lot of things that were almost unbelievable."

Dinger Daugherty was certainly one of the most interesting fellows to ever fall from the sky here.



Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS