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On Tuesday 15th May 1934 taking off from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, a J-300 monoplane christened the “Leonardo da Vinci” attempted the first non-stop flight between New York and Rome.
The plane was jointly piloted by Lieutenant Cesare Sabelli and Captain George Pond,a member of the family behind Pond’s Cosmetics.
After 32½ hours flying in adverse weather conditions and with a fuel system problem they were forced down at the first sight of land in Cloneyogan, Moy, Lahinch, County Clare – the first recorded plane crash in Clare. Despite this it was an authentic transatlantic flight, the eighth such in aviation history.
As the sound of a low- flying aircraft alerted them the local people rushed to the scene and the airmen’s assistance. Séamus was one of the first to reach them as the crash location was at the rear of his own farm in neighbouring Finucanes. The aviators were uninjured but exhausted after their ordeal across the Atlantic.
The Irish Press reported: ‘A neighbour, Mr S. Hennessy, soon had hot tea, boiled eggs and homemade cake brought to the field; it was the flyers’ first real meal since they left New York 32 hours before. Both are keenly appreciative of the hospitality that has been shown them. Lieut. Sabelli said: ‘We have often heard of the hospitality of the Irish people, but all the kindly actions of the people since we landed clearly proves that their reputation for hospitality to all is well deserved.’
A cyclist was despatched to alert the authorities. Superintendent Keenan soon arrived and took the aviators back to Lahinch. There they stayed at The Commercial Hotel now the Claremont Hotel. They telephoned Baldonnel for a mechanic from the Army Air Corps. The next day a team led by Capt. P. Quinn, a native of Newmarket-on-Fergus, arrived to work on the crippled aircraft. The aviators stayed a week in Clare before taking off on Tuesday 22nd May.
Before they left they once again had a meal at Hennessy’s. The Irish Press reported: ‘Pond and Sabelli had tea with Mr. Séamus Hennessy the man who gave them their first meal after they landed in Clare.’
At take-off the “Leonardo da Vinci” bumped dangerously several times, skimming hedges before rising into the evening sky over Cloneyogan heading for Baldonnel for a stop before its onward journey to Rome. Their flight from Baldonnel included a further unscheduled stop in Cardiff due to continued engine trouble and a period in London for repairs.
Sabelli and Pond finally arrived in Rome on June 12th to a public reception led by Mussolini almost a month after they left New York. The aviators left Séamus with a small piece of the planes body as a memento of their unscheduled visit to Cloneyogan and his house for tea.
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