The charred wreckage of the R 1 O 1, the dirigible developed by the British for passenger service, which crashed in early October 1930.
An aerial view of the R101 wreck on the hillside in Beauvais just north of Paris.
Eileen Garrett, medium at the extraordinary seance in which the spirit of the captain of the R 1 0 1 -which had crashed just two days before-broke into the sitting, and newstand poster advertising one newspaper's account of the R1O1 seance. Because of the worldwide interest in the crash of the airship, the seance also attracted worldwide attention. A reporter present at the seance had put the news story out at once.
The Court of Inquiry, chaired by Sir John Simon, "to hold an investigation into the causes and circumstances of the accident which occurred on October 5th, 1930, near Beauvais in France, to the Airship R 1 0 1. "
If physical manifestations can be faked with reasonable ingenuity, what about the problem of mental mediumship? Are there gifted psychics who can communicate with the spirits of the dead not by simple rappings and bangings, but with evidential messages, full of facts which can be checked and verified? How are these mediums able to produce these detailed accounts, and what methods can the investigators use to make sure that more subtle deception is not taking place? Who are these strangely gifted individuals who seem capable of looking into the past and the future when caught up in a mysterious trance?
Two days after the huge British airship, the R 1 0 1, had crashed in flames on a hillside in Beauvais, France-killing 48 of its 54 passengers-the hesitant, anxious voice of a man claiming to be its captain spoke through the lips of a medium in London. In short disjointed sentences he deseribed the horrifying last moments before his incineration. His account of the crash included a wealth of technical information that was confirmed six months later by an official lnquiry. The disaster, which occurred on October 5, 1930, included two high ranking aviation officials among its victims. It shook the government"s confidence in diriglbles, and ended British efforts to develop the lighter-then air airaft for commercial use.
The seance in which the dramatic communication was received took place at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research set up four years earlier by Harry Price, a well-known psychic investigator. Price, his secretary, and journalist Ian D. Coster, had arranged a sitting with the talented young medium Eileen Garrett. The purpose was to attempt a spirit contact with the recently deceased writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the report of which was to be published in a magazine. Sir Arthur, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was also a Spiritualist.
Shortly after the sitters had gathered in the seance room, Elleen Garrett went into a trance. Instead of making contact with the novelist, however, the sitters heard a voice announcing himself as Flight Lieutenant H. Carmichael Irwin. In anguished tones, the voice sald: "I must do something about it ... The whole bulk of the dirigible was entirely and absolutely too much for her engines' capacity. Engines too heavy. It was this that made me on five occasions have to scuttle to safety. Useful lift too small. Gross lift computed badly inform control panel. And this idea of new elevators totally mad. Elevator jammed. Oil pipe plugged ... Flying too low altitude and never could rise. Disposable lift could not be utilized. Load too great for long flight ... Cruising speed bad and ship badly swinging. Severe tension on the fabric which is chafing ... Engines wrong-too heavy-cannot rise. Never reached cruising altitude-same in trials. Too short trials. No one knew the ship properly. Weather bad for long flight. Fabric all waterlogged and ship's nose is down. Impossible to rise. Cannot trim. Almost scraped the roofs of Achy. Kept to railway. At enquiry to be held later it will be found that the superstructure of the envelope contained no resilience and had far too much weight in envelope. The added middle section was entirely wrong ... too heavy, too much overweighted for the capacity of engines . . . ."
The reporter who took this amazing communication in shorthand at first resented the intrusion of Irwin, captain of the R101, when he had expected the volce of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But he was soon to realize that he had unwittingly been part of a dramatic moment in psychic history. He published the story, and it was read by, among others, a Mr. Charlton, who had been involved in the R101's construction. Charlton asked Harry Price for a copy of the seance report. After studying it he and his colleagues described it as "an astounding document," containing more than 40 highly technical and confidential details of what occurred on the airship's fatal flight. "It appeared very evident," sald Charlton, "that for anyone present at the seance to have obtained information beforehand was grotesquely absurd."
Charlton was so impressed by the evidence that he began his own psychic investigation, and ultimately became a Spiritualist. The only hypothesis that he could put forward to explain all the evidence was that "Irwin did actually communicate with those present at the seance, after his physieal death."
Before the official enquiry into the crash, Major Oliver Villiers of the Ministry of Civil Aviation participated in a seance with Eileen Garrett. Through the medium he heard the testimony of others who had lost their lives in the disaster. Here is part of the verbatim account of the conversation during the seance between Villiers and crew member Scott, one of the victims:
"Villiers: What was the trouble? Irwin mentioned the nose."
"Scott: Yes. Girder trouble and engine."
"Villiers: I must get this right. Can you describe exactly where? We have the long struts numbered from A to G."
"Scott: The top one is 0, and then A, B, C, and so on downward. Look at your drawing. It was the starboard of 5C. On our second flight after we had finished we found the girder had been strained, not cracked, and this caused trouble to the cover . . ."
Later Villiers asked Scott if the girder had broken and gone through the airship's covering:
"Scott: No, not broke, but cracked badly and it split the outer cover . . . The bad rent in the cover on the starboard side of 5C brought about an unnatural pressure, forced us into our first dive. The second was even worse. The pressure on the gas bags was terrific, and the gusts of wind were tremendous. This externat pressure, coupled with the fact that the valve was weak, blew the valve right off, and at the same time the released gas was ignited by a backfire from the engine."
The Court of Inquiry report showed that practically every one of these statements was correct; none were incorrect.
One important aspect of Elleen Garrett's work is that she respected psychical investigators and actively encouraged their work. In fact, she founded the New York-based Parapsychology Foundation, which was financed by a wealthy woman politician, Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton of Ohio. On Elleen Garrett's death in 1970 at the age of 77, Archie Jarman, a researcher and wrlter who had known her for nearly 40 years, paid tribute to her in the eolumns of Psychic News. He revealed that she had asked him to "dig into the famous RIOI airship case as deep as I could delve." He agreed to do so and pledged he would take nelther fee nor expenses, so that ' whatever his investigation diselosed, it would be seen that he had worked "without fear or favor." He continued:
"The completed saga, so often briefly mentioned, turned out to be a pretty massiva affair. It look nearly six months and finally filled 455 pages of typescrlpt and blueprints. It involved two trips to France, seeking the few remalning witnesses at Beauvais where the R101 crashed. There were conferences with aeronautieal experts, such as the designer of the R101's heavy diesel engines (which were partly responsible for the fatal crash), and with the aging but active captain of the sister-ship, R100.
"Technical witnesses were interrogated; ordonance maps scrutinized; Eileen's own aeronautical knowledge investigated (result, nil, she knew hardly enough to float a toy balloon). At close range I became familiar with meteorology, geodeties, with prewar political maneuvering and with certain conspiracy at a Ministry, with aerodynamics and with scandalous decisions which took nearly 50 brave men to their deaths.
"It was the technieal aspect of this case which makes it unique in psychic history-and I mean unique ... My opinion is that greater credulity is demanded to believe that Elleen obtained her obscure and specialized data by mundane means than to accept that, in some paranormal manner, she had contact with the remembering psyche of the 'dead' Captaln Irwin to the moment of his incineration with his vast airship."
No one materialized in Elleen Garrett's presence. There were no physical manifestations such as raps or levitations, so beloved of early Spiritualists and psychical investigators. Why, then, is the R101 case so important to the Spiritualist case? The reason is that many of the scientists who risked ridicule by declaring their belief in materialized figures were equally adamant that these seance phantoms were not proof of an afterlife. They felt that mental mediumship might provide the proof.
Compare with the Principle explaination of mans spiritual body