Sunday 21st October 2018

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The Great 1974 Mining Disaster

Barclay James Harvest

Heard a song the other day
About a major out in space
And though the song was kind of grey
It took me far away
Heard the news the other day
About a sailor oh so gay
And though his policies were grey
They took me far away
‘Cause I couldn’t stand the thought
Of being taken in again

Have you seen my life, Mr. Groan?
Do you know what it’s like to be outside?
All you have to do is smile to cause a landslide
And you do, and you do, Mr. Groan

Heard a song just yesterday
About a man who sold the world away
And though the song was still quite grey
It took me far away
‘Cause I couldn’t stand the thought
Of being taken in again

Have you seen my life, Mr. Groan?
Do you know what it’s like to be outside?
All you have to do is smile to cause a landslide
And you do, and you do, Mr. Groan

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Paper Wings

Barclay James Harvest

His crazy frame against the dawn
His hungry leap and ragged fall
A suicidal perch is now laid bare
To searching eyes and empty stares
A fearful silence hits the crowd
The air hangs heavy with the sound
Of useless wings against the morning sky
As paper yields before their eyes

Oh, can you see him now?
A broken man without a dream
Oh, can you hear him now?
A futile laugh above the screams

Flying_tailor

Franz Reichelt

Austrian-born French tailor, inventor and parachuting pioneer, now sometimes referred to as the Flying Tailor, who is remembered for jumping to his death from the Eiffel Tower while testing a wearable parachute of his own design. Reichelt had become fixated on developing a suit for aviators that would convert into a parachute and allow them to survive a fall should they be forced to leave their aircraft. Initial experiments conducted with dummies dropped from the fifth floor of his apartment building had been successful, but he was unable to replicate those early successes with any of his subsequent designs.

 

Believing that a suitably high test platform would prove his invention’s efficacy, Reichelt repeatedly petitioned the Parisian Prefecture of Police for permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel Tower. He finally received permission in 1912, but when he arrived at the tower on 4 February he made it clear that he intended to jump personally rather than conduct an experiment with dummies. Despite attempts to dissuade him, he jumped from the first platform of the tower wearing his invention. The parachute failed to deploy and he fell 57 metres (187 ft) to his death. The next day, newspapers were full of illustrated stories about the death of the “reckless inventor”, and the jump was shown in newsreels.

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Reichelt announced to the press in early February 1912 that he had finally received permission and would shortly conduct an experiment from the Eiffel Tower to prove the value of his invention.

On Sunday, 4 February, at 7:00 a.m., he arrived at the tower by car with two friends. He was already wearing his parachute suit. The news footage of his jump shows him modelling his invention in its folded form, which Le Gaulois described as “… only a little more voluminous than ordinary clothing …” (“… un peu plus volumineuse qu’un vêtement ordinaire …”). The suit did not restrict the wearer’s movements when the parachute was packed, and Le Petit Parisien described the method of deploying the parachute as being as simple as extending the arms out to form a cross with the body. Once extended, the outfit resembled “a sort of cloak fitted with a vast hood of silk” (“une sorte de manteau, muni d’un très vaste capuchon de soie”) according to Le Temps. L’Action Française reported that Reichelt stated the surface area of the final design to be 30 square metres (320 sq ft) with a canopy height of 5 metres (16 ft), while Le Figaro judged the surface area might have reached 32 square metres (340 sq ft). La Croix claimed that the suit may have weighed as little as 9 kilograms (20 lb). The weather was cold, with temperatures below 0 °C (32 °F),and there was a stiff breeze blowing across the Champ de Mars.

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There were some police officers present to maintain order, as the Parisian Prefecture of Police had given Reichelt permission to proceed. After Reichelt’s death, Louis Lépine who, as the Prefect of Police (Préfet de Police), was ultimately responsible for the permission being granted, issued a statement making it clear that while the police routinely gave permission for experiments to be performed from the Eiffel Tower, it was understood in these cases that dummies would be used. They had given permission in Reichelt’s case only on the basis that he would be conducting dummy drops, and that under no circumstances would they have allowed him to proceed if they had known he would be making the jump himself. Lépine assured La Croix that he had never signed an order that allowed a live jump. From his arrival at the tower, however, Reichelt made it clear that he intended to jump himself. According to a later interview with one of the friends who accompanied him up the tower, this was a surprise to everybody, as Reichelt had concealed his intention until the last moment.
His friends tried to persuade him to use dummies in the experiment, assuring him that he would have other opportunities to make the jump himself. When this failed to make an impression on him, they pointed to the strength of the wind and said he should call off the test on safety grounds, or at least delay until the wind dropped. They were unable to shake his resolve; seemingly undeterred by the failure of his previous tests, he told journalists from Le Petit Journal that he was totally convinced that his apparatus would work, and work well. When questioned as to whether he planned to take any additional precautions, such as using a safety rope, he replied that he would not, since he intended to trust his life entirely to his parachute:

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I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention. (Je veux tenter l’expérience moi-même et sans chiqué , car je tiens à bien prouver la valeur de mon invention.)

Hervieu, who was present to witness the demonstration, also attempted to dissuade him from making the jump. He was concerned that the parachute needed longer to fully open than the few seconds the drop from the first platform would allow, and he also presented other technical objections to which Reichelt could not provide a satisfactory response. Reichelt finally replied that:

You are going to see how my seventy-two kilos and my parachute will give your arguments the most decisive of denials. (Vous allez voir comment mes soixante-douze kilos et mon parachute vont donner à vos arguments le plus décisif des démentis.)

Film captured Reichelt’s jump and fall, his body being removed, and measurement of the hollow created by the impact.
Ropes had been suspended between the legs of the tower by the police at Reichelt’s request to prevent the crowds from spilling onto the landing zone, and he spent some time discussing the arrangements with the marshals and ensuring that there was sufficient space for his landing before going to the stairs to climb to the first platform.

According to Le Petit Parisien, Reichelt’s initial attempt to ascend to the first stage of the tower was blocked by a guard named Gassion, who had witnessed previous unsuccessful dummy drops and feared that Reichelt’s attempt would end in disaster, though Le Figaro reported that he had merely not received a copy of the order and had to wait for telephone confirmation from his superiors. Despite the guard’s resistance, by 8:00 a.m. the matter had been resolved: Reichelt, who was visibly shaken by his argument with the guard, was allowed to mount the tower with his two friends and a cinematographer (another was stationed near the foot of the tower to record the jump from below).

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As he climbed the stairs he paused, turned back to the crowd, raised his hand and wished them a cheery “À bientôt”. (See you soon). His friends continued to try to talk him out of the jump, but Reichelt was quite determined. At 8:22 a.m., observed by a crowd of about 30 journalists and curious onlookers, he readied himself – facing towards the Seine – on a stool placed on a restaurant table next to the interior guardrail of the tower’s first deck, a little more than 57 metres (187 ft) above the ground. After adjusting his apparatus with the assistance of his friends and checking the wind direction by throwing a piece of paper taken from a small book, he placed one foot on the guardrail, hesitated for about 40 seconds, then leapt outwards. According to Le Figaro, he was calm and smiling just before he jumped.
His parachute, which had seemed to be only half-open, folded around him almost immediately and he fell for a few seconds before striking the frozen soil at the foot of the tower.

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Le Petit Parisien reported that his right leg and arm were crushed, his skull and spine broken, and that he was bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears. Le Figaro noted that his eyes were wide open and dilated. He was already dead by the time the onlookers rushed to his body, but he was taken to the Necker hospital where he was officially pronounced dead, and then on to a police station in the rue Amelie before being returned to his home in rue Gaillon.

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