John T. Daniels in an interview with Collier’s Weekly,
September 17, 1927
I never saw men so wrapped up in their work in my life. They had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing, and when they were working we could come around and stand right over them and they wouldn’t pay any more attention to us than if we weren’t there at all. After their day’s work was over they were different; then they were the nicest fellows you ever saw and treated us fine. . . .
They were such smart boys—natural-born mechanics—and could do anything they put their hands to. They built their own camp; they took an old carbide can and made a stove of it; they took a bicycle and geared the thing up so that they could ride it on the sand. They did their own cooking and washing; and they were good cooks too.
But we couldn’t help thinking they were just a pair of poor nuts. We’d watch them from the windows of our station. They’d stand on the beach for hours at a time just looking at the gulls flying, soaring, dipping. They seemed to be interested mostly in gannets. Gannets are big gulls with a wing spread of five or six feet. They would watch gannets for hours.
They would watch the gannets and imitate the movements of their wings with their arms and hands. They could imitate every movement of the wings of those gannets; we thought they were crazy, but we just had to admire the way they could move their arms this way and that and bend their elbows and wrist bones up and down and which a way, just like the gannets moved their wings.
But they were a long way from being fools. We began to see that when they got their glider working so that they could jump off into a wind off that hill and stay in the air for several minutes, gradually gliding down to the beach almost as graceful as a gannet could have done it.
We knew that they were going to fly, but we didn’t know what was going to happen when they did. We had watched them for several years and seen how they figured everything out before they attempted it.
We had seen the glider fly without an engine, and when those boys put an engine in it we knew that they knew exactly what they were doing.
Adam Etheridge, Will Dough, W.C. Brinkley, Johnny Moore and myself were there on the morning of December 17th. We were a serious lot. Nobody felt like talking.
Wilbur and Orville walked off from us and stood close together on the beach, talking low to each other for some time. After a while they shook hands, and we couldn’t help notice how they held on to each other’s hand, sort ’o like they hated to let go; like two folks parting who weren’t sure they’d ever see each other again.
Wilbur came over to us and told us not to look sad, but to laugh and hollo and clap our hands and try to cheer Orville up when he started.
We tried to shout and hollo, but it was mighty weak shouting, with no heart in it.
Orville climbed into the machine, the engine was started up and we helped steady it down the monorail until it got under way. The thing went off with a rush and left the rail as pretty as you please, going straight out into the air maybe 120 feet when one of its wings tilted and caught in the sand, and the thing stopped.
We got it back up on the hill again, and this time Wilbur got in. The machine got a better start this time and went off like a bird. It flew near about a quarter of a mile, but was flying low, and Wilbur must have miscalculated the height of a sand ridge just where he expected to turn, and the rudder hit the sand. He brought the plane down, and we dragged it back to the hill again.
They were going to fix the rudder and try another flight when I got my first—and, God help me—my last flight.
A breeze that had been blowing about twenty-five miles an hour suddenly jumped to thirty-five miles or more, caught the wings of the plane, and swept it across the beach just like you’ve seen an umbrella turned inside out and loose in the wind. I had hold of an upright of one of the wings when the wind caught it, and I got tangled up in the wire that held the thing together.
I can’t tell to save my life how it all happened, but I found myself caught in them wires and the machine blowing across the beach, heading for the ocean, landing first on one end and then on the other, rolling over and over, and me getting more tangled up in it all the time. I tell you, I was plumb scared. When the thing did stop for half a second I nearly broke up every wire and upright getting out of it.
I wasn’t hurt much; I got a good many bruises and scratches and was so scared I couldn’t walk straight for a few minutes. But the Wright boys ran up to me, pulled my legs and arms, felt of my ribs and told me there were no bones broken. They looked scared too.
The machine was a total wreck. The Wrights took it to pieces, packed it up in boxes and shipped it back to their home in Dayton. They gave us a few pieces for souvenirs, and I have a piece of the upright that I had hold of when it caught me up and blew away with me.