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Transport: Long Skip

3 minute read

Brisk was sunspot activity when, in 1908, Isadore Edelstein first got in bad (for housebreaking) in his home State of Kentucky. Since then the ups & downs of sunspot activity have strangely paralleled the downs & ups in his life. In sunspotty 1927 he was arrested for safecracking and put away for life in Walla Walla prison as an habitual criminal. In 1934, when sunspots were infrequent again, Isadore Edelstein won a parole. But two years later, when the sunspots were whirling in baleful profusion, Isadore Edelstein was nabbed for violating his parole, tucked backed in Walla Walla for keeps.

Last year and this have been the most spectacular sunspot years since 1870, but, after one great late-summer burst, their frequency this fall began to dwindle. Fort night ago Isadore Edelstein got a great break. He was paroled again, this time started off for Los Angeles to marry Karen Stone, faithful Texas schoolmarm who had been waiting for him for eleven years. Together they would go to Honolulu, start life afresh. They reckoned without sunspots.

One night of last week, Isadore Edel stein boarded United Air Lines’ southbound Flight Six at Portland, Ore. Chief pilot was 43-year-old Major Charles Baldwin Stead, with 21 years and 2,000,000 hours of flying behind him. Only other passen gers were a construction executive, a mining engineer, a broker. Fighting a fierce southeast wind, Pilot Stead soon be gan having trouble locating the guiding beam to Sacramento. It was lost in a strange Babel of strong interfering signals from far off—Oakland, Portland, Fresno, Salt Lake City, Reno, everything but the beam that beckoned to nearby Sacramento.

What was apparently reshuffling Pilot Stead’s radio cosmos was a phenomenon called the “long skip,” during which radio waves from nearby stations were bouncing beyond him, while others from farther off jumbled strong and clear into his earphones. Cause: a whopper of a sunspot day before the flight.

At 4:13 Pilot Stead told Oakland: “Don’t know exactly where I am. I am going to come down slowly.” At 5:03, out over the Pacific, he reported seeing a lighthouse beacon. “Believe you are about eight miles from Point Reyes,” far-off Portland at length told him. Bleak, frowning Point Reyes is 30 miles northwest of the Golden Gate. At 5:22 Stead radioed his last message: “Boys, I haven’t got enough gas to make old Crissey Field [Oakland]. . . . We’ll have to go down in the sea. . . .”

Back in the cabin, Stewardess Frona Clay moved everybody up near the pilot’s coop. Pilot Stead brought the ship to a landing so smooth that the group in the cabin took it standing up. Then he herded everyone out the hatch in the top of the cockpit. Thus they all sat, hoping for dawn and rescue, drifting toward the rocks of Point Reyes.

Finally the tossing plane began hitting the rocks. One by one the survivors were washed off into the angry water with the shore only 100 yards off. Soon only Isadore Edelstein and Pilot Stead were left. Then a great surging wave swept them overboard. They made the beach.

Hours later Coast Guardsmen clambered down the 500-foot cliffs of Point Reyes on ropes, ‘hoisted the two men safely to the top. Of the others the sea at week’s end had tossed up no trace.

In Stanford University Hospital in San Francisco, Isadore Edelstein, roughed up but not badly hurt, had time to ponder the possibility that 1940 will be the biggest sunspot year of all.

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