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Pioneering Aviator Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman

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Death

Pioneering Aviator Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman

On April 30, 1926 Coleman was in Jacksonville. She had recently purchased a Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) in Dallas. Her mechanic and publicity agent, William Wills, flew the plane from Dallas in preparation for an airshow but had to make three forced landings along the way due to the plane being so poorly maintained and worn. Because of this, Coleman’s friends and family did not consider the aircraft safe and implored her not to fly it. Wills was flying the plane with Coleman in the other seat. Coleman did not put on her seatbelt because she was planning a parachute jump for the next day and wanted to look over the cockpit sill to examine the terrain. About ten minutes into the flight, the plane unexpectedly dived, then spun around. Coleman was thrown from the plane at 2,000 ft (610 m) and died instantly when she hit the ground. William Wills was unable to gain control of the plane and it plummeted to the ground. Wills died upon impact and the plane burst into flames. Although the wreckage of the plane was badly burned, it was later discovered that a wrench used to service the engine had slid into the gearbox and jammed it. She was 34 years old.

Honors

A public library in Chicago is named in Coleman’s honor, as is a road at O’Hare International Airport and at Frankfurt International Airport.

Bessie Coleman Boulevard in Waxahachie, Texas, (where she lived as a child) is named in her honor.

In 1995, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 32 cent stamp honoring Coleman.

A bronze plaque with Coleman’s likeness was installed on the front doors of Paxon School for Advanced Studies in 2012. The school is located on the site of the Jacksonville airfield where Coleman’s fatal flight took off.

 

Pioneering Aviator Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman 

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