Photo provided by the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission

Looking back: 1933 plane crash

St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 25, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — On June 18, 1933, 21-year-old Frederick Stearns II decided to take his biplane up for a spin. Literally. Stearns had decided to try spins in the craft he had owned for two years. Departing from Gratiot Airport, he piloted the plane up to 4,000 feet and put the plane into a spin. Unable to halt the spin, he bailed out of the plane at 1,000 feet. Stearns landed at Martin Road and Harper Avenue, with virtually no injuries.

The plane, shown in this photograph surrounded by curious passersby and at least one police officer, “spattered its wreckage in a field at Yale and Greater Mack” according to an article in the Detroit Free Press headlined, “Stearns Leaps as Plane Spins.” The motor of the plane buried itself into the ground while other parts of the wreckage were scattered in an area of more than 100 square feet. At the time, there were few buildings in the area, so no person or property suffered injury or damage as a result of the plane’s crash.

Stearns, the son of Frederick S. Stearns, the owner of a Detroit pharmaceutical company, had learned to fly at age 16. The crash was his first mishap, but only the third time he had ever worn a parachute while flying. He later pursued a career in aviation in California.