■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Friday morning marked the 80th anniversary of the Russian Transpolar Flight Landing from Moscow to San Jacinto in 1937.
“Life was simpler back then, but it was a day that San Jacinto became very good friends with Russia,” said Mayor Scott Miller.
On July 14, 1937, a “huge red and silver plane” came out of the sky and landed in a San Jacinto pasture. The landing was significant to aviation history because it was the first flight attempted across the polar route – a feat many had thought was impossible. The landing site is marked by California State Historical Landmark No. 989.
Pilot Mikhail Gromav, copilot Andrei Yumashev, and navigator Sergei Danilin flew the single-engine ANT-25 plane (designed by famous Soviet aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev) 6,295 miles in 62 hours, and landed in the pasture right across the street from where Fire Station 78 on Cottonwood Avenue is standing today – the same location where the 80th anniversary was also celebrated Friday morning. It is said that the plane looked like a glider with a 113-foot wingspan and 950-horsepower engine.
The pasture belonged to dairy farmer Earl Smith, who charged visitors 25 cents per car to see the plane, then, because of the sheer volume of visitors, 25 cents per person. San Jacinto’s population back then was almost 1,300 people.
Witnesses honored with certificates of recognition
The plane’s initial destination that day was San Diego, but it was forced to land due to bad weather conditions. When it landed, it immediately caught the attention of the San Jacinto Valley residents, and nearly 4,000 people came to witness the historic moment. Of those witnesses, eight of the remaining witnesses were honored Friday with certificates of recognition by Nancy Warneke and Mayor Miller.
Jack Darbey, was “8 years and 10 months old” when the plane landed. Kay Davidson was 17 when she saw the Russians come to San Jacinto; Nelson Dilworth was 10 years old. Betty Jo Dunham, curator of the San Jacinto Valley Museum, was 7, and her sister Barbara Dunham Walsh was 5.
George Ott was “5 going on 6,” and still cannot figure out how “they got three blades on one prop.”
Bud Roberds, who was 17 and working in Los Angeles, saw the big headline about San Jacinto in the newspaper and made his way back home. “It was like a circus out there! A fairgrounds!” he exclaimed.
Margaret Jenky, just 13 at the time, confirmed that the plane was facing westward, addressing a question by Darbey.
Russian dancers perform for the anniversary celebration
Russian Gypsy Dancers from Los Angeles performed a special dance during the anniversary celebration, which later involved members of the audience, and city officials including Mayor Miller and Mayor Pro Tem Alonso Ledezma.
Jack Warneke from the San Jacinto Valley Museum presented a video reel of the history of the transpolar flight for the audience, narrating as the film played.
“This was the first time anybody got out of the polar region, and made it,” said Warneke.
Vice Consul Igor Brynchik from the Consulate General of the Russian Federation from San Francisco was in attendance to represent the Russians, and welcomed the crowd that came out to commemorate the historic day. A Russian couple currently living in Los Angeles, Aleksandr and Agness Pikelny, also came out as they had once before for the 75th anniversary.
“It was part of school, the history of advanced science and engineering, in Russia,” Aleksandr told the Press-Enterprise about learning of San Jacinto when he was a child.