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Gustav Hamel – came to Hampshire days before disappearance

When Gustav arrived at the south coast with his impressive Saulnier monoplane in May, 1914, he was determined to make an unforgettable impression. Having honed his skills as one the most daring aviators on the scene, he knew precisely what it took to astound and thrill a crowd – and that is exactly what he proceeded to do.

Unbeknownst to him, this performance of his intricate sky dance would be one of his final shows. Only a few days afterwards, the pioneering pilot vanished in the mist above the English Channel and was never seen again.

Daily Echo: Gustav Hamel flying over the heads of the crowd.

Gustav was at the pinnacle of his fame as a flier when he arrived in Hampshire to undertake a number of displays, in which he would feature his famous feat of “looping-the-loop.’’

His first appearance, which attracted at least 10,000 people, was over what is now Southampton Airport, during which he flew to Calshot, where he performed in front of Guglielmo Marconi, who was then carrying out his wireless experiments at the Eaglehurst estate.

Gustav had become renowned for his daring displays of aerial acrobatics. He was even entrusted with the privilege of carrying out the first-ever delivery of airmail across the globe.

Winchester residents had been eagerly waiting for the day of the display when they could catch a glimpse of the courageous aviator, and so 5,000 people descended upon Weeke Down with their tickets in hand.

Daily Echo: Gustav Hamel.

Desperate to catch a glimpse of Gustav and his remarkable flying machine, throngs of people congregated around the area. Canvas screens had been erected in an effort to prevent a free view, yet that was unsuccessful as spectators swarmed upon every possible lookout point.

At 3.40pm exactly on Thursday, May 14, 1915, Gustav took his place in the cockpit of the plane and slowly moved away from the hangar to commence his first exhibition.

A report of the event in the Hampshire Chronicle of the time, said: “The wheels ceased to touch the ground, and looking like a giant white bird, the aeroplane rose steadily before performing three dazzling loops.

“At 3.54pm the aircraft took off again, this time carrying the Hon Elin Douglas Pennant but just six minutes later the aeroplane came back to earth and Mr Hamel took off again for far the most sensational exhibition.

Daily Echo: Gustav Hamel ascending into a loop-the-loop.

“After several circuits he assayed a dive almost to the road, and those who were getting a free view skurried like rabbits. The ladies shrieked, and even the men felt very uncomfortable for a second or so.

“Then just as it seemed certain he must crash and dash himself and scores of others into the next world, he altered the plane of flight and swooped upwards again.’’ Not long after Gustav’s Hampshire display the flier disappeared without trace on May 23, 1914 as he crossed the Channel from France where he had collected a new aircraft.

In Hampshire, Gustav’s passing was an especially hard blow – only a few days earlier, he had enthralled onlookers with quite a remarkable demonstration of his aerial abilities.

One person, who was among the crowd in Southampton, wrote: “Now alas he is lost in the fogs of the English Channel and there is something terrible about such a death. To be launched into space when in full possession of youth, health, and vigour, brave to a degree, with all one’s faculties on the alert but then to fall with irresistible force into the sea is of great sadness.’’

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