If you’ve traveled to Peru, out of Peru or have considered doing either, then you’ve come across the name Jorge Chavez. The international airport of Lima—the only hub in Peru that regularly receives flights from all over the world—carries his name, but who was Jorge Chavez?
An important figure for Peru and the aviation world, here’s what you need to know about Jorge Chavez.
Though he is considered Peru’s most famous aviator, Jorge Chavez never actually lived to see the Andean nation. Born in Paris on June 13, 1887, Jorge “Geo” Chavez Dartnell was the son of Peruvian parents who had migrated to France after the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).
Chavez enjoyed a comfortable upbringing and quality education in the City of Lights, as his parents were well off: his father, Manuel Gaspar Chávez Moreyra, was a banker, and his mother, María Rosa Ramona Dartnell Guisse, the granddaughter of British naval officer and notable Peruvian Navy commander, Martin Guisse.
Before he became a young pilot, Chavez proved to possess great athletic abilities. He competed in track and field, played professional soccer and rugby, and was also an avid cyclist and racer.
Jorge Chavez was just 21 years old when his father passed, leaving him a generous estate that would provide the young man with the means to pursue another adventurous activity: aviation.
In 1910, just seven years since the Wright Brothers had made their historic flight, Jorge Chavez obtained his international pilot license. The 23-year-old proved to be a thrillseeker in the cockpit, pushing boundaries of peak altitudes and extensive distances.
With less than a year of licensing under his belt, Chavez gained notability in the aviation world for having reached altitudes of 1,647 m (5,405 ft) and 2,700 m (8,700 ft) over Blackpool, England and Issy, France, respectively.
Just weeks after flying at new heights in France, Jorge Chavez was keen for a new challenge. The Aero Club of Italy offered a prize of 100,000 Lire (about $20,000 at the time) to the first pilot to successfully cross the Alps. Based on skill and performance in past flights, Chavez was one of five pilots allowed to compete. He has been quoted as having said, “Whatever happens, I shall be found on the other side of the Alps.”
On September 26, 1910, the young pilot departed from Brig, Switzerland and, in under an hour, arrived at his destination of Domodossola, Italy—however, it would not be a successful landing. Twenty meters from the ground, the wings of Chavez’ plane fell apart, forcing the plane and pilot harshly into the ground. Four days later, Chavez would die of blood loss.
A funeral in Paris was attended by then Peru president, Jose Pardo. Churches in Peru honored the fallen pilot with public services. In 1911, what was left of the crashed plane (a Bleriot XI) was delivered to Peru and, 46 years later, the remains of Chavez himself were repatriated to Peru.
Besides lending his name to the international airport in Lima (built in 1960), Jorge Chavez’ short yet eventful life has been honored with various monuments around the world. Both the beginning and end points of his journey—Brig, Switzerland, and Domodossola, Italy—are home to monuments of the brave young pilot.
Constructed in 1937, a slender pyramid circled by angelic figures continues to stand tall in a roundabout near central Lima, honoring Chavez.
Cover image: Portrait of Jorge Chavez painted by Adriana Bisi Fabbri (Photographed by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, uploaded to Wikimedia by User:Mushroom)
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