Exactly 100 years ago, Swiss pilot Oskar Bider became the first aviator to cross the entire range of the Alps, from Bern to Milan, less than a year after earning his pilot’s licence.
A few months earlier, he had already been the first to cross the Pyrenees, travelling from Pau in France to Madrid. In March 1913, he also made the first mail flight in Switzerland from Basel to Liestal, while in May he crossed the Alps from Bern to Sion in canton Valais.
On July 13, Bider, a farmer by trade, left the Swiss capital early in the morning, heading south. The highest obstacle along his route was the Jungfraujoch pass in the Bernese Oberland, which he was able to fly over after leaving without a full load of fuel, establishing a Swiss altitude record (3,600 metres) in the process.
He eventually landed his Blériot aircraft – described by some as a windsock with an engine – in Domodossola in Italy to refuel before pursuing his journey to Milan. Bider waited there nearly two weeks before returning to Switzerland via a different route over the Alps.
During the First World War, he became the co-founder as well as the chief pilot of the Swiss air force. After the conflict, he became involved in a new company planning to set up a domestic airline network. However, he never saw the project through.
Like many of his pioneering contemporaries, he died in July 1919 aged just 27 in the crash of the plane he was flying to celebrate his departure from the air force. His sister Leny took her own life the same day and is buried next to him in their village of Langenbruck.
(All pictures: Keystone/Photopress/Verkehrshaus)