The Flight and Voyage of the Santa Rosa Maria
The hatch to the bridge swung open with a flurried flash. A gust of the howling wind whipped into the compartment. The sharp end of Captain James H. Wilson’s dividers tore through the paper. The much chagrined master of the S.S. Circe Shell took his free hand and smoothed down the chart against the wooden table. “What is it?” he inquired. The Chief Officer, short of breath, offered a response as he secured the hatch. “I think there is a buoy off the starboard.” The Chief Officer instinctively turned and pointed to the leeward sea. Captain Wilson placed the dividers down on the chart and walked over to the bridge wing for a closer inspection. “Pass me your binoculars,” he harkened to him. On his first voyage as commanding officer of the ship, he was still learning and observing the officers and crews’ level of efficiency. The Chief Officer dutifully offered his binoculars to the captain. Captain Wilson adjusted the settings as he scanned the shifting seas. “And to this news,” he offered thinking of his calculations on the nautical chart moments earlier, “you are most correct.” He paused and then continued as he squinted to try and identify the object, “but there should not be a buoy in this location. Either it was blown off station in a recent blow, or it is something different altogether. Either way,” he continued, “we will investigate.”
Orders were quickly passed and the S.S. Circe Shell’s course was altered to ascertain the true identity of the unknown object.1 As the ship neared the object, it was determined not a buoy at all. It was the tail section of an airplane. A curious find, the men on the bridge agreed. Then suddenly, as they continued to close in on the craft, they saw a figure atop the fuselage. The shrill sounding of the steamer’s whistle sliced through the last vestiges of the day. The man began to frantically wave his arms. Captain Wilson passed orders to his Second Officer. The lifeboat and her crew were readied on deck as the steamer plowed at full speed at the object’s swirling swells. The man appeared, as the vessel approached, to be wary of his water-bound plight. His once quickly waving arms had tired and as he slumped down onto the half-sunken fuselage of the aircraft, his arms went limp.
As the S.S. Circe Shell maintained her station nearby the stricken aircraft, the lifeboat was lowered and her crew rowed with haste to render assistance. Upon their arrival, the man waved again and offered a smile. He was finally on the verge of rescue. As the lifeboat got closer, the figure exclaimed, “I’m Stanley Hausner…save my ship.”2 The man slid off of the airplane’s fuselage and into the waiting arms of his rescuers as the lifeboat came alongside his wrecked aircraft. Despite his utter exhaustion from his ordeal, he was semi-coherent and upon his arrival to the pitching decks of the S.S. Circe Shell, he greeted Captain Wilson. “Thanks very much Captain. I have been waiting for you eight days.” Though many pleas were made to him, Captain Wilson was not able to grant Hausner’s request to save the Santa Rosa Maria as darkness had befallen the scene. Returning to his original course, Captain Wilson made note of the aircraft’s position as well as the sea and weather conditions. He ordered a radio transmission sent to inform others that Hausner had been pulled from the sea and that they would, despite their rescue mission, arrive in New Orleans by the 27th of June. Captain Wilson further related that Hausner was “still in a very weak condition” and was “unable to give a coherent account of his experiences.” Wilson lastly asked that officials please “inform Mrs. Hausner her husband is exhausted but uninjured.” Though exhausted by his travails both aloft and at sea, Hausner attempted to spot the remains of his slowly sinking ship of salvation. With the falling darkness of night, he realized that he would never again see his Santa Rosa Maria. The position of his discovery was roughly five hundred and fifty miles west of Portugal and four hundred miles northeast of the Azores.
As he regained his strength, he was finally able to recount his tale to Captain Wilson and the officers and crew of the S.S. Circe Shell. On June 3rd, Hausner, after a brief breakfast with his wife Martha, met with a few reporters who had gathered outside one of the hangers at Floyd Bennett Field. “When I get to London,” he offered, “I may land but if the plane is in good shape, I’ll continue.” Hausner’s plan, they all knew, was to fly to Warsaw, Poland, his homeland. With his supplies aboard supplanted by some fresh vegetables he had purchased after breakfast, he checked over his plane one last time. After a careful inspection, he looked down at his watch. He walked over to his wife. “Well,” he said, “it’s time to go.” The husband and wife kissed. Hausner then turned and boarded his aircraft named Santa Rosa Maria.
The Santa Rosa Maria had been designed by Giuseppe Bellanca and was a near duplicate of the Miss Columbia, an airplane that had made history under the command of Clarence Chamberlin in 1927 traversing the Atlantic with a passenger. The monoplane aircraft was powered by a two hundred and twenty horsepower Wright Whirlwind engine and was heavily laden down with five hundred and twenty gallons of gasoline and twenty-five gallons of oil. In addition to charts and some other plotting equipment, Hausner had stowed aboard two, two quart containers – one with water and one with coffee – four chicken sandwiches, two ham sandwiches, several chocolate bars, and two apples and two oranges. Comfortable in the cockpit, Hausner checked over the gauges. The engine sputtered and then coughed to life. Time was of the essence. He taxied the Santa Rosa Maria to the runway, waved to his wife and the bevy of onlookers along the tarmac, and then, with full speed to the throttle, let free of the brakes. The aircraft lumbered down the airfield. Reaching the required speed, Hausner eased back on the controls, and the aircraft lurched gracefully into the early morning sky. It was nine forty-six on the morning of June 3rd and his historic attempt across the Atlantic Ocean – first to London and then onto Warsaw - had commenced.
As she wiped tears from her eyes, Mrs. Hausner was ushered aboard a nearby aircraft. Under the command of aviator John Coyne, the plan was for the second aircraft to trail the Santa Rosa Maria on the first leg of her flight across Long Island. As the minutes passed, Mrs. Hausner knew that her time flying in the wake of her husband would soon wane. Seeing the wide swath of ocean before her from the cockpit of the trailing plane, she watched as the fire red fuselage of her husband’s plane grew fainter from view. Coyne turned to her and motioned that it was time to head back to Floyd Bennett Field. She solemnly clasped her hands together and prayed for his safe arrival as Coyne eased the controls to the starboard and the plane took a new course westward for the airfield. With no radio in either aircraft, she offered a blown kiss in his direction.3 Meanwhile, aboard the Santa Rosa Maria, Hausner checked his course and then reflected on his flight two weeks earlier.
Much, he reflected as he eyed the waters of the Long Island Sound below him, was different on this attempt. Two weeks earlier, the weather forecast had been less than ideal. Fog, he was informed, was thickening off the coast and could spell trouble for the initial legs of his flight. Despite the warnings, Hausner had decided to alight on his attempt. As predicted, the fog thickened and he found himself flying through heavy blankets of grey. The Santa Rosa Maria’s fuselage and wings shuddered as winds buffeted the aircraft. There was no sign that the fog would lift. Hausner contemplated the flight and as he circled Martha’s Vineyard, he decided that it was not in his best interest to push on any further. He watched as the compass swung westward. He would have to delay his flight. Returning after only six hours, his proposed flight to Warsaw would have to be way-laid. Hausner recalled the disappointment as he again checked his gauges. He scanned the terrain of the coastline beneath his aircraft and he smiled. This time, he reflected, would be different. He had supreme confidence in his aircraft. It had been built for a proposed flight to the South Pole. Though the proposed flight had been scrapped, the plane had been utilized for endurance flights in both Miami and San Diego and had successfully remained aloft for nearly sixty hours. This trip, he reflected to himself inside the lonely cockpit, would be different from his first attempt. Hausner was prescient in his thoughts.
Meanwhile, as the Santa Rosa Maria continued on her flight, Mrs. Hausner, her friends, family, and
newsmen awaited radio transmissions from various locations so that they could track his progression. In the late afternoon of June 3rd, his plane was spotted above Sydney, Nova Scotia and at thirty minutes past eight o’clock later that same day, the fire-red fuselage was seen over McCallum’s Settlement, in Newfoundland.4 Observers indicated that the aircraft seemed to be flying smoothly at an estimated speed of approximately one hundred miles an hour. While the news was encouraging, transmissions about sightings were not forthcoming. Despite his flight plan over the shipping lanes of the Atlantic Ocean, no radio calls were received. The Santa Rosa Maria had simply disappeared. As the hours from the last sighting turned into days, many within the press and aviation circles offered little hope for his survival. The icing on the wings and fuselage, many speculated, had forced him into the ocean. While many offered their insight and questioned his fate, Mrs. Hausner called upon her faith in her husband’s flying abilities and more importantly, in her faith in the Lord.She was most likely not the only one praying for salvation. “I had covered approximately 2800 miles,” Hausner explained “when engine trouble developed…after 29 hours in the air, I couldn’t find the trouble and I decided I would have to land. Between the time I decided to land, and the time I actually landed, I saw 15 ships, but none saw me.” Hausner explained to Captain Wilson and the men gathered around the officer’s mess aboard the S.S. Circe Shell listened intently, would be forced to ditch in the wide expanse of the ocean. “I landed between two big waves. Due to empty gas tanks, and the buoyancy of the plane, it nosed a bit into the water and remained afloat.” During the forced landing, seawater flooded the cabin. All of his remaining supplies disappeared into the water. Though initially concerned that the aircraft would sink, his spirits were buoyed by the fact that the aircraft, equipped with gas tanks – now empty – that also served as pontoons, had kept the latter half of his aircraft on the surface. Hausner took stock of his situation. What had started out as a flight across the Atlantic had now turned into a voyage of desperation on the open sea. He would maintain a lookout for passing ships and try to not think about eating or drinking. It would be his only way to survive his forced landing. The days passed slowly in a dreadful monotony. Bobbing amidst the swells atop the cabin top of the aircraft, Hausner forced himself to think of nothing but survival. At one point, he spotted a ship in the distance. He stood atop the top of the partially submerged cabin and waved frantically as it steamed closer and closer. Despite being able to read its name emblazoned along its hull, no one aboard saw Hausner or the half-submerged Santa Rosa Maria. His heart sank as he fell down onto the cold fuselage and watched the stern of the ship disappear into the distance. No matter what, he would have to hold out on the hope that the next ship to cross his path would see him and provide his succor.After seven days on the wild and wicked waves, he finally spotted something in the distance. It was another ship. Maybe they would see him, he thought, his mind racing of possibly being plucked from the clutches of death. He eased his body up from the cold and wet cabin top and mustered up his remaining strength to remain standing. He began to wave at the ship. He saw the blackened outlines of men moving about along the decks. Suddenly, the ship appeared to be turning toward him. Finally, he convinced himself as he carefully lowered his body back to the top of the cabin, he might be rescued. Captain Wilson and the officers and crew of the S.S. Circe Shell were enthralled at the recounting of his adventures.5 In a few more days, the now rested and on the mend Hausner would be reunited with his wife. On the evening of June 22, Mrs. Hausner and forty or so odd guests boarded the yacht Seven Seas and set out to rendezvous with the S.S. Circe Shell as she neared Miami, Florida.6 As Captain Wilson watched from the bridge, Mrs. Hausner and her husband were reunited aboard the main deck of the steamer.7 After transfer to a tugboat, Hausner, his wife’s hand in his, recounted his tale of adventure. After several celebrations in Miami, he and his wife returned to Newark, New Jersey where he attended another packed reception of friends and well-wishers. “I had faith in Stanislaus and I prayed for him constantly,” Mrs. Hausner told reporters at each of the events. “People told me that I had better reconcile myself to being a widow…but I knew better. I knew he was somewhere alive and I prayed that somebody would find him before it was too late.”8Though Hausner had been unsuccessful in his trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London to Warsaw flight, he was celebrated for his resourcefulness and determination to survive for seven days on the open sea with scant supplies.9 And while he regaled his adventures for reporters and well-wishers alike at a host of events, he learned that the steamer Escambia had arrived in Genoa, Italy with an additional piece of cargo. On July 24th, the officers and crew were successful in pulling the damaged Santa Rosa Maria from the ocean. The Santa Rosa Maria had finally reached land after her unintended voyage from a flight that had started a month and a half earlier with her sleek outlined shadowed over the face of the waves, in our waters.