Adventurers Fly Over the Andes, 1937

William K. Vanderbilt II, his wife Rosamund, and friends Edie and Robert Huntington flew around the rim of South America in Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane – from January 18 to February 11, 1937. He kept a detailed log and journal of the trip. Later that year, he privately published a book about the journey, Flying Lanes – Being the Journal of a Flight Around South America and Over the Andes. Here are more excerpts from that book.


January 20 – San Juan to Trinidad. “Still blowing hard, but no rain squalls as yet and we take to the air at 7:32 A.M. The coast of Puerto Rico is soon behind us. We fly high, 8,000 feet. It’s smooth up here, but cold…

Vanderbilt Museum archives The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina
Vanderbilt Museum archives
The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina

“We made Fort de France by 11:15 a.m. and stopped for gas…Fort de France on the island of Martinique is a little bit of France dropped in the Western Hemisphere, located in an inexpressibly beautiful spot.

“It is a veritable Garden of Eden, vegetation here runs riot, and it has been a port of call for me on many occasions, My first visit in 1909 with Dave Barnes came after passing through the worst hurricane one could imagine, in a small boat called the Abdelcader commanded at the time by Captain Blancart, who later on became Commodore of the Company General Trans-Atlantique fleet. We remained here at that time for one week occupying rooms at the hotel and what a week – a nightmare even now, when I think of it…

“Think of it! Puerto Rico to Trinidad in less than 6 hours. It was inconceivable and these majestic islands where I had always wanted to tarry and dream now shot by us at 150 miles per hour…And still there are a lot of us looking for faster planes. A speed of 250 miles per hour is not too fast nowadays, said a friend of mine, and it won’t be long before we reach the 300 mile per hour average.”

February 2: Flight across the Andes – Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile. Willie made arrangements with the Panagra airline to have one of its pilots show pilot Earl White through the high mountain pass, “which can be very treacherous in the matter of weather, as meteorological conditions in this area change rapidly.”

The Vanderbilts and the Huntingtons followed in a Panagra plane: “We went over the pass at 15,500 feet…As we began to climb we would take a puff of oxygen now and then. You hold a small rubber tube about three inches from your mouth, press a button and inhale. The oxygen seems to help if you get short of breath, but the imagination is apt to raise cane with your thoughts at these altitudes.”

To be continued…

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