Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier a French chemist and physics teacher was one of the first pioneers of aviation along with his companion Pierre Romain. However, on Wednesday the 15th June 1785 tragedy stuck when the pair were to find their places in the history books for becoming the first fatalities in an air crash – not quite the accolade they were seeking when trying to cross the English Channel from France to England!
An extract from a letter from Boulogne dated 15th June 1785 appeared in The Derby Post and several others the following day giving an account of their tragic deaths.
Poor Pilartre de Rozier and a Mons. Romain ascended in the grand balloon, at seven this morning, and made a fine appearance in the ascent, bidding fair for a prosperous voyage to England, but in half an hour, when they were at a great height, and about three miles from the town, the balloon caught fire, and of course fell to the ground. The two intrepid adventurers were dashed to pieces. I was with the bodies in half an hour and never saw anything so shocking.
I examined the bodies, but do not find anything broke above the middle, so that they must have come down perpendicularly, but their legs and thighs are broke in many places. I shook hands with Rozier almost the last person in his life time; he was a fine young fellow, and thought for several days past had a presentiment of his untimely end in his countenance; he has been indefatigable for this week in preparing his machine – I hope to never hear of another being attempted in this or any other country; but people blame him, as it was owing to the Montgolfier he carried with the balloon, which set it on fire.
The article continues …
The late celebrated Mr Pilatre de Rozier was the first hardy adventurer, who ascended attached to a fire balloon at Paris on the 15th October 1783, about ten months after Mr. Montgolfier had invented that singular machine. On his return from the sky, he received the compliments due to his courage and activity, having shown to the world, the accomplishment of what had been for ages desired and attempted in vain.
It is thought the melancholy exists of M. Pilatre de Rozier and his no less unfortunate companion, will in some measure check the too-soaring ideas of the many candidates for aerial fame, who are now in our metropolis, who had pledged themselves to the public shortly to encounter, at the peril of their existence, the dangers of an element as fickle as it is unknown.
M. Rofier was to have been married immediately on his arrival in England, to a Miss Dyer, a beautiful young lady of great fortune in Yorkshire.
Possibly unable to cope with the loss of her fiance, the beautiful and accomplished Miss Susan Dyer apparently died just eight days later at a convent in Boulogne, reports stating that her death was possibly a suicide. however, this seems to have been countered by an article in The Botanic garden by Erasmus Darwin & William Blake written 1825 which states that she ‘lingered for some months and died of grief‘ – perhaps a less dramatic and possibly more accurate account.
According to The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of the 20th June, Rozier’s companion. Romain did not die immediately but was conscious enough to ask for water just before taking his last breath. Little appears to have been recorded about Romain, however, he was selected for this attempt by Rozier due to his vast knowledge of physics and mechanical power. He was a young man only 27 or 28. He was described as being of a florid complexion, middle-sized, well built and active.
The modern hybrid gas and hot air balloon is named the Roziere balloon after his pioneering design. A commemorative obelisk was later erected at the site of the crash. The King of France had a medal struck and gave his family a pension of 2,000 livres.