Saturday, February 12, 2011

Last Flight of the "Port of Brunswick"

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Whatever happened to Paul Redfern?
by Robert A. Waters

Several websites chronicle the life and disappearance of aviator Paul Redfern. By 1927, the young pilot had already made a name for himself as the first person to fly solo across the Caribbean Sea.

According to EarlyAviators.com, “Redfern...weighed about 110 pounds, had barnstormed in 40 states and once busted 80 stills in a week as an airborne revenue agent. He had been jailed in Texas for buzzing a railroad car and in South Carolina for dropping a football dummy from 2,000 feet, which caused widespread fainting at an air show. Once he took the ‘world's smallest flying machine’ on a national advertising tour.”

So when the Brunswick Chamber of Commerce raised $25,000 so that Redfern could attempt to be the first to fly non-stop from Brunswick to Brazil, he named his plane "Port of Brunswick."

At the time, aviators all across the globe were setting records. The most famous was Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. Other pilots were looking for the next record. A successful flight from Georgia to South America would almost certainly have put Redfern in the super-star category of pilots.

The trip from Brusnwick to Rio covered 4,600 miles. According to CapnBilly's website, Clara M. McCall, writing for The Masonic News, stated: [Redfern] “apparently planned to steer southeast, at just about 135 degrees on the compass, pass Puerto Rico and Trinidad, and pick up the coast line of Brazil at its northeast corner. He was to drop a flare over the town of Macapa in Brazil, north of the Amazon, as he passed it the second night, and follow the coast line to Rio if all went well.”

At least one experienced pilot had warned him that the 48 hours he would spend making the flight was too much for one person. But Redfern was determined.

On August 25, the South Carolina native roared into the sky. He flew a six-seat Stinson Detroiter. The plane had been specially designed to hold extra fuel. Painted green and yellow, “Brunswick to Brazil” was stenciled in white across its sides. The plane flew over a shrimp boat near the Georgia coast, then veered toward the Carribean.

The last confirmed sighting of Redfern was at around 3:00 p.m. near the island of Trinidad. The Norwegian ship Christian Krohg was about 160 miles from Venezuela when a green and yellow plane suddenly appeared. It circled above the ship, then dropped a note in a carton. The note fell onto the surface of the ocean and was picked up by a crew member of the Christian Krohg. The note asked for directions to land and was signed by Paul Redfern.

The captain turned the bow of his ship toward Venezuela and used hand signals to direct the pilot. (The note was later sent to Redfern’s father who identified the handwriting as that of his son.)

An article from CapnBilly’s website stated that “Redfern lined his plane up with the direction of the ship, wagged the wings of the airplane in appreciation and began flying away toward Venezuela.”

After that sighting, Paul Redfern disappeared into the fog of history.

The following day, when he failed to arrive in Rio, a massive search was launched. There were the usual rumors of him having been sighted in various places, but none were confirmed. In one tale, it was said that a pilot had "fallen from the sky" and was being held captive by natives in the jungles of Guyana. The Smithsonian Institute sent a search party to investigate, but found no evidence of Redfern or his plane.

Although no one knows for sure what happened to the adventurer, the most likely scenario was that he crashed into the jungle north of Rio De Janeiro. At least one pilot, Jimmy Angel (discoverer of Angel Falls), stated that he'd flown over the wreckage of Redfern's plane many times. Each time, the plane had sunk deeper into the swamp until the only thing visible was "the sun's light on the cabin's glass," as Angel's widow described it.

An American engineer in Venezuela's Ciudad Bolivar plaza confirmed that he had seen a green and yellow plane flying low over the city. According to the engineer, the plane was trailing black smoke.

The evidence is that Paul Redfern nearly made it to Rio. Then his plane crashed into the jungle where it was eventually sucked into the quicksand. Paul Redfern likely died in the crash.

His body was never found.

2 comments:

R Shelton said...

There will be an update soon(9/15/13) and periodic updates following at: http://www.eaa242.org/PaulRedfern/redfern_001.asp

R Shelton said...

There will be an update soon(9/15/13) and periodic updates following at: http://www.eaa242.org/PaulRedfern/redfern_001.asp