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For one Italian flying hero, it was a year of triumph. For another, it was a tragic last chance to return home after being put into virtual exile as an air attaché assigned to the Italian embassy in Argentina.

General Francesco De Pinedo was perhaps his country's most famous aviator in the mid-1920s, but found himself competing with General Italo Balbo, who was a special favorite of dictator Benito Mussolini. It was Gen. Balbo who led a squadron of 24 seaplanes from Rome to Chicago's World's Fair in 1933, and then went on to New York City where he was honored with a ticker tape parade that drew more people than greeted Charles Lindbergh after his return from his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.

A few years earlier Balbo had been overshadowed by De Pinedo, but that changed soon after Balbo became his rival's superior officer. De Pinedo's problems are well explained below. His desperate attempt to re-establish himself as an Italian flying hero ended in 1933's most horrific airplane disaster, described in awful detail in the first story.

Syracuse American, September 3
NEW YORK, September 2 (Universal) — Fate made a funeral pyre today of the big Ballanca monoplane, Santa Lucia, in which Gen. Francesco De Pinedo, once known as the Lindbergh of Italy, hoped to stage a desperate record-breaking flight which would win his recall to his native land.

The brilliant career of the noted Italian airman, virtually exiled four years ago at the height of his fame, ended tragically as De Pinedo was burned to death before the eyes of 200 horrified spectators at Floyd Bennett Field, at the takeoff of a proposed nonstop flight to Baghdad.

One of the greatest and most careful fliers in the world, his eagerness to be off on his long-deferred flight drove him to disregard for one fatal moment the elementary rules of safety, and the Santa Lucia became a flaming inferno from which he could not escape.

Aiming for the world’s long-distance flight record, the gallant little Italian airman, whose rising star was eclipsed by Gen. Italo Balbo in 1929, began his ride to death at 7 a.m.

Wearing a blue suit, tan sweater, gray derby and blue leather bedroom slippers, the latter for luck, he waved to a pretty blonde young woman with whom he had sat in a car for more than an hour before the takeoff.

The big red plane, striped purple and white, weighing seven tons, ran 2,000 feet down the runway, then zigzagged onto the grass. With bravery approaching abandon, the Italian airman forced the plane back on the runway and continued.

He succeeded in lifting the heavy plane, carrying 1,050 gallons of gasoline, four feet from the ground, but then it dropped, swerved sharply toward the administration building, missed it by 50 feet, crashed through a steel fence, nosed forward and burst into flames.

There was a roar which shook the earth as the first of the big gas tanks exploded.

Terrified spectators, running toward the plane, saw the ghastly picture of the airman framed in the plane’s tiny window, trying desperately to pull himself out, while flames licked hungrily about him.

With the first explosion the motor fell back into the cockpit, cutting off De Pinedo’s right leg, but still he fought to escape. His screams of agony were drowned in the roar of the flames, and helpless bystanders saw only the desperate movement of his lips.

Finally, with a last desperate effort, he pulled himself through the little window and fell in front of the motor, followed by a burst of flames that scorched his body. Another explosion came, and the airman was wrapped in flames so hot they fused the great motor into one molten mass of metal.

As the crash came, the young woman who had waved goodbye so blithely to De Pinedo screamed and became hysterical. Later she was led from the field.

So intense was the heat of the flames that it was a half hour before rescuers were able to reach the charred body of De Pinedo, beside the red-hot steel skeleton of his ship.

Machinist’s mate Michael Hicks Beach of the Naval Reserve hangar had trailed the plane down the concrete runway on a motorcycle, carrying a fire extinguisher, as it the custom on the start of long distance flights. He made a futile attempt to reach General De Pinedo when the ship crashed, and was himself badly burned.

Major J. Nelson Kelly, manager of the airport, said De Pinedo’s plane had too big a load.

Captain Ugo D’Annunzio, son of the famous Italian poet and technical adviser for General De Pinedo, wept as he offered the opinion that De Pinedo’s eagerness to get away on the long-deferred flight, after his unofficial exile in Argentina for three years as air attaché to the Italian embassy, apparently “made him forget all he knew about safe flying.”

Syracuse American, September 3
NEW YORK, September 2 (INS) — General Francesco de Pinedo was sent into virtual exile four years ago, at the height of his career, when it was rumored he aspired to the hand of Princess Giovanna, now queen of Bulgaria, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.

His rumored loved for the princess and the undoubted professional rivalry of General Italo Balbo, now air minister of Italy, were the contributing causes for the sudden eclipse of his brilliant career, according to friends of the gallant airman.

On De Pinedo’s return from his spectacular flight from Rome to Tokyo in 1927, he became one of Italy’s major heroes. And later that year, when he completed his four-continent flight, even though he lost his plane, his position was established as the Lindbergh of Italy.

It was at this time there began the rivalry with General Balbo which as believed to be De Pinedo’s political undoing.

As chief of staff of the air force, De Pinedo got all the cheers, though, in fact, Balbo was his superior, in actual charge of the aviation department, with Mussolini still holding the title of air minister.

De Pinedo was appointed by Mussolini to lead a mass flight into the Near East in 1929, although Balbo was in actual command. But in every stopping place De Pinedo was hailed as the hero and Balbo was ignored.

Shortly after this came Balbo’s elevation to the office of air minister, and immediately De Pinedo’s exile to Argentina as an air attaché to the Italian embassy there.

Rumors that the gallant little airman — De Pinedo was just five feet four — dared to fall in love with the Princess Giovanna may have hastened his exile. It was reported that King Victor Emmanuel asked that he be sent outside the country.

At any rate, De Pinedo was packed off to Argentina where he was forgotten for three years.

He arrived in New York last December to prepare for the long-distance flight which he hoped would bring about his recall to Rome.

During the stay of General Balbo and his men in New York, before starting the return flight of their air armada, De Pinedo pointedly refrained from joining the festivities of welcome.

 
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