The name Trepassey comes from the French word "trépassés", meaning "dead men'", those who have "passed to the other side". What could be a better name from aviators trying to fly across the Atlantic in the early 20th century, especially as most ended up as dead men indeed.
These efforts were partially motivated by the offer of a very large cash reward. The London Daily Mail newspaper offered ₤10,000 to the first aviator who completed a trans-Atlantic flight in under 72 continuous hours.
And some made it. The earliest one gave it a try from Trepassey on the south coast of the Avalon peninsula.
On May 16. 1919, three United States Navy-Curtiss Flying Boats (the NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4) left Trepassey harbor. The NC-4 managed to fly to Portugal via the Azores, thus completing the first successful (although not non-stop) transatlantic flight.
NC-4 in Trepassey
A bit less than ten years later, after staying in Trepassey for about three weeks, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, primarily as a passenger, aboard the Friendship, a Fokker F7. The team left Trepassey Harbor on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales, a distance of more than 2,010 miles (3,235 kilometers), in 20 hours 49 minutes. With Miss Earhart were Wilbur Stultz, pilot, and Louis Gordon, mechanic.
Amelia Earhart in Trepassey
On June 21, 1928 the prestigious New York Times newspaper declared that Trepassey, Newfoundland, would be the site of a great international airport. The newspaper headline declared:
“Miss Earhart Predicts Great Airport at Trepassey for Trans-ocean Flights.”
The headline came about as a result of an interview that Amelia Earhart gave to the international press shortly after landing in Wales. Earhart told the New York Times reporter:
“Trepassey ought to be some day a great airport for transo-ceanic travel. It processes the finest harbor, perhaps the only harbor, adapted naturally for seaplane takeoffs in its part of the world.”
But she cautioned that Trepassey needed to develop an infrastructure to sustain this new industry that was emerging. She told the reporter:
“…there are very few trains from the outside world into Trepassey and absolutely no facilities for taking care of a plane or repairing them. … If someone would build a seaplane station in Trepassey it would be a great help to aviation, for there is going to be more transatlantic flights from there so many that they will not even be of interest to the public.”
Unfortunately for Trepassey, no infrastructure was ever established.
There were flights from Lester Field and Mount Pearl near St. John’s but after Trepassey, the town of Harbour Grace became the airport of choice. The Harbour Grace airfield, built on the summit of a hill by local residents, became starting point of many early flights from West to East. But the next time she was in Newfoundland, Amelia Earhart bypassed the Trepassey that she had spoken so highly about and completed the world’s first transatlantic solo flight by a woman after taking off from Harbour Grace, on 20 May 1932 and landing at Northern Ireland about 13 hours and 30 minutes later.
In between Harbour Grace and Gander, Botwood filled the bill nicely for Imperial Airways and Pan American flying boats. But the later land-based planes meant doom for the sea plane based trade…just as jet planes meant doom for Gander.
And it is now Gander’s turn to re-invent itself…