Presqu'ile Beach

Presqu’ile Beach, Northumberland County. Picture by Dave Kellam.

It was not just airmen who died as a result of flying mishaps near Deseronto. On this day in 1918 a young man called Charles Austin lost his life near the beach at Presqu’ile, near Brighton, Ontario. Here is Cadet Albert Alexis Dumouchel’s account of the circumstances leading to Austin’s death.

Detail from file RG4-31/2062 at the Archives of Ontario

Detail from Attorney General 1918 file RG4-31/2062 at the Archives of Ontario

At about eight o’clock on Monday morning the 19th of August, I was sent up with three other machines to make a formation and reconnaissance flight. While near Brighton, my engine began to miss and I looked for somewhere to land. The only place I could see was the Beach which runs north and south. There was a north east wind blowing so that on trying to land my machine was drifted over the water. My engine refused to pick up again and my wheels hit the water turning the machine over on its back. I waded to shore and by this time, one of the other cadets, seeing my trouble, had landed. I told him to fly back to the aerodrome and report that my machine was on its back in the water near Brighton. When I again turned around to the machine, I saw it beginning to float out in the bay. I tried to wade out to it but found the water too deep. I then saw a boy in a rowing boat some distance away and got him to row me out to the machine. It was then floating on its back on the upper main planes and tail plane. We clung on to the propeller intending to try and tow the machine in. The machine, however, then tilted up on its nose, the radiator striking the boat and upsetting it. We both managed to climb on to the machine which was now floating in an upright position. I asked the boy if he could swim and finding that he could not, took off my tunic and swam to the over-turned boat. I climbed on it and tried to paddle the boat back to the machine. The current however was drifting me away from the machine and having only my hands to paddle with, I was unable to reach it. As the boat floated farther away, the machine began to sink. When nearly a quarter of a mile from the machine, I saw it sink completely. I was, by this time, suffering considerably from cold and cramp and when ultimately picked up by a Motor Boat, after I had been in the water about an hour, I was barely conscious.
The last I saw of Mr. Austin, he was climbing up the machine as [it] sank lower in the water and taking his clothing off.

Austin’s body was retrieved from Presqu’ile Bay later that day. The conclusion of the Court of Inquiry into the incident was as follows:

Detail from file RG4-32/2062 at the Archives of Ontario

Detail from file RG4-32/2062 at the Archives of Ontario

The circumstances connected with the accident, which led to the death of Mr. C. Austin, civilian, were that through ignorance of the normal floating position of an aeroplane which it was liable to assume at any moment, the deceased and Cadet Dumouchel endangered their lives by trying to tow the machine which was floating on it’s back, by the propellor.

The Court respectfully suggests that, in view of the fact that the deceased Mr. C. Austin, civilian, lost his life by drowning in a voluntary effort to assist in the saving of Govt. property, and bearing further in mind that he was the main supporter of his mother and family, as has come to the knowledge of the Court, the expense of his funeral be borne by the Government.

Charles Francis Austin was born in Brighton on September 28th, 1899, the son of Lucien Austin and Bessie (née Proctor). His father, a druggist, had died of influenza in 1904 and at the time of the 1911 census Charles was living with his mother, Bessie, his younger brother John and his mother’s elderly parents. His death registration gave his occupation as bank clerk.

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