Agony and death
On Friday, September 23, 1910, after the accident during the final approach for the landing, after defeating the Alps, Chavez was rescued from the wreckage of the Bleriot on the Domodossola airfield where he received first aid. He was then carefully taken in a vehicle to the San Biaggio Hospital, in Domodossola to where Chavez was accompanied by doctors Giuseppe Borgnis, Pasini Di Alfonsine, Rodolfo Attilio and Luigi Squarcia. When he arrived at the hospital, Doctor Alfonso Veggia, the Principal, received the injured pilot. He then ordered his admittance to the surgical ward in order for a team of physicians to examine him thoroughly and to cure and stitch the necessary visible wounds and to immobilize the lower limbs affected.
When Chavez was in the operations room, his friends Joseph Christiaens and Luigi Barzini, arrived. Barzini worked as a correspondent of the Corriere della Sera Milan newspaper. He later became the biographer of Jorge Chavez. He described this scene as follows:
“He looks like a corpse, his clothes are all messy and covered in blood, his head is swinging, his face is pale and his eyes are closed. His mouth is swollen and dirty with blood. A worn glove is stuck to his chest. His left leg is strapped over his pants and is tied between two wooden splints. In the operations room the physicians, dressed in white, cut off his clothes and shoes into pieces to prevent him from feeling any more pain. The wounded man repeats ‘slowly, slowly please’ in a way that tears your heart apart. We approach him; he recognizes us and waves his head in sign of discouragement. Then the doctors start reducing his fractures.”
On his part, doctor Veggia, Principal of the hospital, wrote the following in Jorge Chavez’s clinical history, on Friday, September 23:
“Jorge Chavez, 24 year old male [he was actually 23 years, 3 months and some days old], handsome, developed musculature and well proportioned, after his exciting flight over the Alps, accomplished in 39 minutes [actually, they were 45 minutes, according to the records of the Commissioners], fell three kilometers South of Domodossola, under the weight of his Bleriot monoplane, suffering several injuries. The most serious injuries are in the lower limbs: fracture of the left femur between the middle and lower third, comminute fracture of the middle third of the left leg and fracture of the right leg in the lower third, complicated by a 6 centimeter long linear wound on the outer side, from which plenty of blood flew mixed with droplets of medullar fat. These wounds were certainly caused by the weight of the parts of the monoplane, under which the pilot was found after the crash. He also presented concussions and erosions on the face, as well as small lacerations: one on the upper lip and one over the left supraciliar arc. As of the time he was admitted, he presented tachycardia of about 120 pulses per minute. Once the fractures were reduced and the immobilization bandages were applied, and after healing and stitching the wounds, the attending doctors, including myself, started a very careful semiologic examination to see if we found any visceral wounds. The result was negative. The heart beats were frequent but regular, with no arrhythmias. His skin presented a very pale color and a light cyanotic tone on the nails and visible mucus; this could be explained as a result of the speed of the flight, which was one hundred kilometers per hour. He was administered a two cubic centimeter shot of camphorated oil at a concentration level of 25%. Cardiac syrup made up by tincture of digitalis and Hoffmann's Anodyne Liquor has been administered to him orally, and he has been taken to a well ventilated room, where a well heated bed was prepared for him.”
Saturday, September 24, 1910 - The clinical chart for that day recorded the following:
“At 07:00 hours: normal temperature, the pulse was steady at 100 and his respiration fell to 20 per minute. In the afternoon, the temperature reading was 37, 6 ºC, his pulse had increased to 120 again and his respiration was 24 per minute. At the end of the day, his temperature was 37, 4 ºC, but the pulse rate started to increase to 128 and respiration to 28 per minute. During the day, the patient received camphorated oil, digitalis infusion and also small doses of morphine. He had a very bad night, he almost had no sleep. There were contractions of the tendons, the patient rambled, and when he finally slept, he woke up startled. Urine was scarce during the day, it had a density of 1040, it was very loaded and presented albumin traces. There was no intestinal evacuation.”
That day, Chavez received his friends Arthur Duray, Luigi Barzini, from Corriere della Sera, Milan, and Joseph Christiaens, to whom he described the flight from Brigue, in Switzerland to Domodossola, in Italy, which we have already narrated in the former chapter.
The correspondents of the Le Temps and Le Journal newspapers, both from Paris, interviewed him.
That same afternoon, on September 24, Chavez received a letter sent by his friend, plane builder Louis Bleriot, pioneer of aviation and well known by this deed: he was the first pilot to cross the English Channel on a plane.
That night, Professor Antonio Carle and his assistant, Doctor Giulio Massobrio, arrived at Milan at 20:00 hours and immediately went to the hospital. They examined the patient together with doctor Veggia and doctor Borgnis, and they stated the probability of “fat embolism”, given the multiple fracture focuses which Chavez had in both legs.
Sunday, September 25, 1910 - The clinical chart for that day recorded the following:
“At 06:00 hours, his temperature was 37, 6 ºC, his pulse was 120 and his respiration rate was 32 per minute. Professor Carle reexamined the patient in detail. He opened the orthopedic splints that supported the fractures and dictated his assistant the following telegram to be addressed to the Chair of the Milan Aviators Committee “Visited Chavez last night and this morning. General conditions discrete, however they arise some concern due to weakness and irregularity of heart function. Examination does not reveal any serious internal visceral injuries. Three fractures in the lower limbs, currently well contained by provisional bandages. Could heal with good functionality, with prior timely attention to solve general phenomena. Signed: Carle.”’
That afternoon, his temperature rose to 38 ºC, his pulse was 132 and his respiration started to accelerate, up to 35 per minute. During the day, he received repeated shots of camphorated oil and digitalis infusion. He was offered food in small amounts: milk, coffee and champagne. He had no intestinal evacuation and was therefore administered a small dose of German spirit. He did not sleep at night, he was restless. All the wounds, including those of the leg, show signs of cicatrization, by first intention”.
That day, he was allowed to receive some visits, among them, the President of the Aviators Committee, who wanted to inform him personally about the decision to award him a special prize of 50 000 lire and a golden medal to commemorate his feat. He was also able to receive his fellow citizen, Peruvian aviator Juan Bielovucic Cavalié.
Monday, September 26 1910 - The clinical chart for that day recorded the following:
“In the morning the temperature was 37,6 ºC; the pulse, which continued to rise, was 140, and respiration was 36. That day’s examination showed: dry and furry tongue. The patient received citrus lemonade with magnesium. Some intestinal evacuation occurred. There was a slight improvement in the patient’s general conditions. Then the patient got worse. Well known physicians arrived to examine him and gave some indications to try and save him.
Chavez’s family was informed about his serious condition. His brother Juan and an aunt departed from Paris to Domodossola. They had not traveled before since the initial information they had received did not warn about a serious condition as a result of the accident.
That afternoon Professor Bazzolo, the Senator, arrived and with the help of doctor Veggia, doctor Borgnis and doctor Antonini, carried out a very careful semiologic examination. In the clinic chart he wrote down that Chavez’s heart beats were somewhat confuse, but that there were no evident visceral injuries. They recommended digalen injections, to be administered in the camphorated oil. The diagnosis of Dr. Bazzolo was: traumatic shock. Prognosis: serious.
At the end of the day, Chavez’s temperature reached 39 ºC, his pulse was 138 and his respiration was 36 per minute. He was very anxious during the night and despite the surgical appliance he shook his leg with abrupt contractions. For the first time he complained about precordial oppression. At times he became drowsy and then startled. He had mucus vomits and delirium threat.”
Tuesday, September 27, 1910 - The clinical chart for that day recorded the following:
“At 06:30 hours, the temperature was 37, 5 ºC, pulse was 138 and his respiration was 60 per minute. The treatment administered was a bromide enema and a 350 cc of physiologic serum hypodermoclisis and he received caffeine and digalen injections.
Doctor Dell’Oro arrived and administered the patient oxygen inhalations for about two hours. Almost at noon, his temperature had reached 38,2 º C, his pulse was 140 and his respiration was 60 per minute. Urine was scarce: density 1 039, acid reaction, dark yellow color, acre smell, turbid transparency, abundant urates and evident traits of albumin and glucose. It was noted that the cyanosis increased, especially in the limbs and lips. He presented signs of suffocation and Cheynes-Stokes was diagnosed.”
That morning, the attending physicians had declared him terminally ill. In the hospital room, Jorge Chavez was accompanied by his brother Juan, his aunt, the doctors and his friends Arthur Duray, Joseph Christiaens and Luigi Barzini.
A priest approached Chavez, spoke to him and anointed him with the holy oil, which the aviator received with faith and experienced spiritual tranquility.
During the last hour of his life he started deliration, holding what is considered to be a conversation with immortality and a legacy for his country, Peru. “Altitude … higher … always higher … the engine … lower … I want to climb”. Finally, Jorge Chavez uttered “No, I will not die!”, trying to hold to life, but some instants later, his breath became faster, and his heart stopped beating . Thus he fell in eternal sleep, departing in his last flight towards eternal and true life.
Jorge Chavez, the courageous conqueror of the Alps had physically died, but he will remain spiritually with us for he has passed on his glory and his inspiration motto “Higher, always higher” the same words that later became part of the lyrics of the Peruvian Air Force anthem.
The clinical chart reads as follows “at 14:55 hours on September, 27 1910, Jorge Antonio Chavez Dartnell is called death due to a cardiac arrest”, however the Death Certificate registered the time of death to be three o’clock.
Luigi Barzini, journalist and friend of Jorge Chavez, asked the following questions “What did Chavez die of? He did not die as a result of his wounds. He had no fever, no congestion, he did not have any infections; he spoke while he was turning off. What was the disease that killed him?”
The answer to these questions can be found in the book Jorge Chavez: un héroe del siglo XX. El por qué de la caída y el porqué de su muerte, written by Dr. Guillermo Garrido-Lecca Frías and the aviator and artist, Gastón Garreaud Dapello. After a very professional analysis of all the facts mentioned in the clinical chart of the patient, such as the description of the wounds he suffered, the treatment received – according to the medical progress of that time – the lack of knowledge of blood transfusions, the denial to give him liquids, among others, the authors of the above mentioned book reached the following conclusion: “When he arrived to the irreversible hypovolemic shock phase, Chavez’s heart did not receive the necessary oxygen due to the lack of circulating blood, so it stopped beating”.
Today, with the progress achieved by medicine, a patient in the conditions of Jorge Chavez, after his unfortunate accident, could have been treated and he could have recovered from his wounds.
Multimedia Archive: Agony, death and funerals of the conqueror of the Alps