In 1910, Jorge Chávez, young man born in Paris but registered as Peruvian by his parents at the Peruvian Consulate, was a sports hero who arouse admiration from the world and the proud of his countrymen due to his aeronautical feats, that had a brilliant ending with the air crossing of the Alps on September 23rd of that same year, demonstrating that a new communication route was viable to be used by humanity.
His death, few days later, impeded him from coming to Peru to comply with the invitation that the Peruvian Congress made him. Chávez, whose hangar carried the name of PERU, was excited about the idea of coming to Peru to share his knowledge with the future Peruvian aeronauts and contribute to the Peruvian sovereignty that was threatened. This wish was fulfilled by his friend and feat fellow Juan Bielovucic a year later.
Attention to these passages -taken, as some of the pictures, from the blog "Libros, vinos y viajes" (Books, wines and trips) – where, almost in a cinematographic way, Basadre narrates the before and after of the air crossing of the Alps. A brief lesson for Peruvian teachers.
“In a meeting held in Milan, in September 1910, the main test consisted of a flight from Switzerland to Italy crossing the Alps through the Simplon Pass. From the three competitors, an Italian was eliminated for not showing up on time and for not presenting his aircraft, an American withdrew from the competition after two unsuccessful tries, and so a Peruvian remained. In his monoplane Bleriot, after an unfortunate attempt, he departed from Brig, Switzerland on September 23rd, crossed the Alps and appeared in Domodossola valley. He had won. According to the French journalist Hugues Le Roux, he was “a young man of the 20th Century crossing through the blue route above those Alps near where Caesar and Napoleon once dragged themselves”. Nobody had done that before.
Nearly at 5 meters high, the aircraft wings came off and turned “like dove wings”, and then the aircraft fell on the floor crashing the front part. Later, it was found out that a union piece between the fuselage and a wing presented signs of a previous break and of a flawed repair made with nails. This accident before landing was not the pilot’s fault, not for an engine fault but for a fault on the fragile and old aircraft airframe. The tail, the rudders and the bicycle tires remained intact and the wings were practically not distorted.
Taken to the Hospital of Domodossola, messages to congratulate his feat were sent to Chávez, from the King of Italy, the President of France and many important figures. At that time, crossing the Alps appeared as an analogous meaning to the later flight of the American aviator Lindbergh to Europe and in our times to the Gagarin’s feat.
Chávez didn’t lose consciousness and his leather helmet remained intact. He didn’t suffer from internal injuries either, although some leg fractures and small lacerations and bruises were found in his face. It was a long suffering. According to Luigi Barzani, he haltingly pronounced phrases like “the altitude, the altitude…”, “the engine, the engine…”, “I want to stand up”. It seems that his last words were “No, no, I don’t die”, although, according to Juan Bielovucic, he said “higher, even higher”. The Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli concluded the elegy that he wrote on the occasion of this sacrifice and that deeply touched the world, with the following lines:
-“He falls with his lonely great soul
Always rising. And now, yes, he flies!
He died on September 23rd at the age of 23.
Why did Chávez died? His fall took place at a low high. His death didn’t happen due to the injuries. There was no infection. Garrido Lecca (Guillermo) diagnoses, in the light of current knowledge, a traumatic and hemorrhagic shock due to the insufficient amount of blood circulating that caused the bleeding on the three fracture points in the legs. With the medicine of that time, it was impossible to give him a blood transfusion that would save his life, that is, the intravenous administration of the liquid to replace the lost blood. Some purgatives were administered and he was made to drink coffee and little champagne. He cried out for a lot of drink.