Have you ever seen a football player race to the wrong goal line, or a basketball player score at the opponent’s hoop? It’s an embarrassing moment for an athlete, and when it happens someone is sure to mention the name “Wrong Way” Corrigan.
Who was Corrigan? How did he get the nickname “Wrong Way?” And was he in fact going the wrong direction at all? The answers to the first two questions are easy. The last one is a mystery that may never be solved.
“Wrong Way” Corrigan is Douglas Corrigan, who became famous in 1938 with a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Crossing the ocean was not new. Others had already managed that feat, beginning with Charles Lindbergh in 1927. What was unique about Corrigan’s flight was that he had filed a flight plan indicating he was headed for California. More than twenty-eight hours later, he landed in Dublin, Ireland – 6,000 miles off course! He said the change in direction was the result of a broken compass, but it’s more likely he purposely set out for Ireland.
Corrigan was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1907. His parents divorced when he was twelve. Three years later, his mother died leaving Corrigan to take care of his younger brother and sister. Corrigan supported the family by working at various jobs including driving a truck and washing bottles. He got interested in flying after watching two barnstormers doing loop-de-loops and other in-air tricks at an air show. He talked the pilots into teaching him to fly and paid for the lessons by helping out around the airport.
Corrigan got his pilot’s license when he was seventeen years old. He then went to work at a San Diego airport where he gave flying lessons and worked as a mechanic. He soon decided to go out on his own becoming a barnstormer.
Corrigan was always looking for new challenges. In July 1938, he flew nonstop from California to New York in a small single-engine plane he had rescued from a trash heap. According to reports, he had bought the plane for a little over $300 and rebuilt it himself. When he got to New York, he filed a flight plan for the next leg of his voyage, a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Airport authorities turned down his request because the plane had no radio and no fuel gauge.
Corrigan then filed a flight plan for a return home trip to California. He took off at dawn surprising onlookers who said he was headed east when he disappeared into the clouds. U.S. airport officials were not amused when he eventually landed in Dublin, Ireland. They suspended his pilot’s license and Corrigan returned to New York by ship. His airplane was on board packed away in a large crate. Others were impressed. Fans gave Corrigan a hero’s welcome when he got to back to New York.
His flight earned him a new nickname, but did Corrigan really fly the wrong way or was he simply ignoring airport authorities? Corrigan said he was lost. “They [airport authorities] told me to get lost,” he once said, “so I did.” Most people did not believe him, but Corrigan stuck to his story. He died in 1995, and as far as I know, he never admitted he had actually set out for Ireland that day. If any of you have information that can shed some light on that mystery, I hope you’ll share it here.