A record flight

80 years ago, pilot Jimmie Mattern flew from New York to Telemark nonstop in 23 hours

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen Jimmie Mattern’s plane, a Lockheed Vega.

Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen
Jimmie Mattern’s plane, a Lockheed Vega.

By Bjørn Olsen

Skien, Telemark

Jomfruland Island is an elongated pebble rock island located in the archipelago outside Kragerø, Norway and is Telemark’s southernmost municipality. Jomfruland Island is 7.5 km long and 1 km at its widest and today it is home to approximately 60 permanent residents. Jomfruland is known for its many white anemones that grow on the island. In fact, the filming of the Norwegian film “Kristin Lavransdatter” was shot on the island of Jomfruland simply due to the great white anemones area. In the summer, Jomfruland is an incredible tourist spot for boaters and there are daily ferries to the island as well. Yours truly has submitted proposals for an informational sign to be set up at Jomfruland Island regarding Jimmie Mattern landing here during Pentecost, on June 4, 1933.

A world event on Jomfruland in 1933

Pentecost had come to Jomfruland on June 4, 1933. It was not often that something happened on Jomfruland during those days, but on this particular day people on the island could spot a plane circling at a low altitude over the island with the intent to land.

The pilot had decided to land on the pebble ridge between Skadden and Løkstad. He was obviously not familiar with the rolling stones on Jomfruland. Dagfinn Aasvik, 13, and Arne Løkstad, 10, were just outside Skadden in a pram when the plane landed. It leaped across the stones before it stopped. The boys rowed to shore and ran across the island to the plane.

 Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen American pilot Jimmie Mattern made an unexpected visit to Telemark, Norway in 1933.

Photo: A ‘thank you’ photo from Mattern to J.R. Wiborg, with courtesy of Jørgen Svarstad Wiborg
American pilot Jimmie Mattern made an unexpected visit to Telemark, Norway in 1933.

“There were two boys who had arrived by the plane before us, Erling Johansen and Fredrik Mostad, who had shot crows in the area,” says Arne Løkstad.

None of the boys understood what the man was saying. He was certainly not from Norway. The pilot had a map in his hand and tried to make himself understood, and in some way he managed to say that he was American. After a while, farmer Hans Løkstad arrived, but he could not understand the language either.

The pilot was aware of his whereabouts, which he had found out after having flown along the Norwegian coast for a while.

Finding someone who could speak English

Dagfinn and Arne ran to the Hovedgården (the main farm) to get Jens Søre, who had just arrived from America after being there for several years.

“He knows English,” the boys thought.

Jens Søre borrowed his brother’s horse, Anker, and went straight to the plane, while the boys ran after.

“After a while, the others who knew English came as well, including director Wiborg,” says Arne Løkstad.

Now, the American pilot James (Jimmie) J. Mattern could tell his story. Jimmie Mattern had started in New York, 12 p.m. Norwegian time on June 3, bound for Paris. 23.5 hours later he made an emergency landing on Jomfruland.

Had encountered severe storms

Along the way, Mattern had entered a severe storm center with dense fog, lightning and thunder. He had frantically tried to get out of the storm center by diving from 2,000 meters (6560 ft) to avoid the fog. He had heard a crack in one of the wings while he got into a severe icing area. Ice was attaching itself on the wings that were about to be completely covered in ice, but luckily he came into a warmer air layer and the ice disappeared. In this storm area, the plane had gone off course and when he was closer to land, he thought it was Scotland. As the plane approached the coast, he realized that he had come to the west coast of Norway.

Thought it was a sandy beach

He began flying south and passed both Stavanger and Kristiansand, and followed the south coast, heading north. When he approached Kragerø, the gas tanks were nearly empty and he had to land – quickly.

He tried to land on Kalstad, Kragerø, but fortunately he decided not to. There were swamps in Kalstad and that could have gone horribly wrong, says Arne Løkstad.

 Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen Jimmie Mattern and his Lockheed Vega on the island of Jomfruland in 1933. In this picture, you can barely make out the heavily pebbled beach of Jomfruland, which could have easily been Mattern’s downfall.

Photo: J.R. Wiborg with courtesy of Jørgen Svarstad Wiborg
Jimmie Mattern and his Lockheed Vega on the island of Jomfruland in 1933. In this picture, you can barely make out the heavily pebbled beach of Jomfruland, which could have easily been Mattern’s downfall.

Mattern later recalled that when he came across Jomfruland, he thought that the Skadden area was a sandy beach, and he then landed. He noticed something different when he landed. It was a miracle that the small single-engine Lockheed plane did not tip over and crash. There were only a few minor damages. The left wheel had been punctured, the monitor of the tail wheel was clamped together and the left wing had a minor damage.

Made contact with Horten

Backup was called in order to get assistance from Horten. A plane carrying a repair man and parts from the flying boat station was sent to Horten. Jens Søre, who was a mechanic, helped as best he could. He patched the one wheel that had been punctured and managed to repair some of the minor damages to the plane before the mechanics from Horten came to Jomfruland.

The plane was pulled by horses over to the other side of the island with the help of the residents of Jomfruland. Planks were placed under the wheels so that they could easily take the plane over the rocks and all the way down the grassy slope at Kullhavna by Løkstad.

 Photo courtesy of Bjørn Olsen The pilot and some Jomfruland residents help hitch horses up to the plane – the only way to pull the damaged plane to the other side of the island.

Photo: J.R. Wiborg with courtesy of Jørgen Svarstad Wiborg
The pilot and some Jomfruland residents help hitch horses up to the plane – the only way to pull the damaged plane to the other side of the island.

Mattern remained on Jomfruland for few hours because he did not get clearance to land on Kjeller due to the fact that landing lights had not been installed at the airport. Mattern stayed overnight at director Wiborg’s lodge. At 3 a.m., Mattern was once again in the Lockheed ready to take off.

Had several world records

Jimmie Mattern was no stranger to the public. He had already set several world records in long-distance flying. He had previously flown across the Atlantic in 10 hours and 50 minutes, a distance of 2,000 miles. He had also flown from New York to Berlin, a distance of 4,106 miles and spent 29 hours and 31 minutes.

Now he had flown from New York to Jomfruland in 23 hours, a distance of 4,200 miles (6720 km).

On Monday June 5, 1933, one of America’s largest news papers, the “New York Evening Journal,” could bring the news of Jimmie Mattern’s flight from New York to Kragerø as being the longest non-stop flight that had been made worldwide, and that it broke all previous records listed, such as:

Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh: From Roosevelt Field, L.I. to Le Bourget, Paris. May 20 – 21, 1927; 3,600 miles in 33 hours and 29 minutes.

Amelia Earhart Putnam: From Harbor Grace, N.F. to Culmore (near Londonderry in Ireland). May 20 – 21, 1932; 2,065 miles in 13 hours and 30 minutes.

Captain James A. Mollison: From Portmarnock, Ireland to Pennfield Ridge. Note: The first from east to west solo flight.  August 18 – 19, 1932; 2,400 miles in 30 hours and 15 minutes.

 

From the book Telemark i norsk luftfartshistorie (“Telemark in Norwegian Aviation History”) by Bjørn Olsen. For more information about this story or the book, email Bjørn at bjorn3@olsen.as.

This article originally appeared in the October 25, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

You may also like...