Air travel began with hot-air balloons. None of the early flights, however, was manned. The first recorded flight took place in Hilo in 1825. According to an entry in Andrew Bloxam’s diary, the officers and men of his ship, the British warship Blonde, set off “some rockets, and a paper air balloon, but the latter caught fire almost immediately and falling on Lord Byron’s grass house was near setting it in flames.”
A more successful effort occurred late in 1840, while Hannah Holmes was entertaining sixty officers of the American exploring expedition then visiting Honolulu. She and her guests watched the exciting ascension of a great balloon filled with hot air, apparently O‘ahu’s first.
The first fully successful manned balloon ascent in Island history took place November 2, 1889, when Joseph Van Tassel took off from Kapi‘olani Park, rose to an altitude of one mile, and then came to earth by parachute. On November 18, he tried to duplicate this feat in an ascent from Punchbowl, but the wind carried him off course and he parachuted into Keahi Lagoon and drowned. Van Tassel thus appears to have been Hawai‘i’s first successful flier, its first parachutist, and its first air fatality.
By Robert C. Schmitt