Leif Ragnar Dietrichson (1890-1928)
Leif Dietrichson was the nephew of Oluf Dietrichson who crossed Greenland with Fridtjof Nansen in 1888. He was also Bernt Balchen’s cousin. He was the pilot on N24 and he died on the Latham plane in 1928 together with Roald Amundsen.
Leif Ragnar Dietrichson was born in Hønefoss on 1 September 1890 as the second youngest of five siblings. His doctor father was very socially engaged and “wore himself out” in his private practice. He died when Leif was only six years old and Leif’s mother then had to earn for the family as a music teacher. His father was known to be much in favour of a strong military defence and he would probably have liked to see that his son made his career in the navy.
After Naval Academy 1908-11 Leif gained practice as a mate with the Bergenske Dampskibsselskap (Bergens Steamship Company) before he was appointed torpedo chief during the neutrality watch in 1914, and leader of the Hvaler Division with the torpedo boat Springer. When the naval air force was established in 1915, he moved to that and became one of the pioneers of military flying in Norway. He started to fly in 1916 and went in 1918 to Great Britain for further training. That same year he became head of the flying boat base in Kristiansand, a position he held until he died. In 1919 his plane crashed into Portør harbour, without him being seriously injured.
In 1923 he met Roald Amundsen through mutual acquaintances. Amundsen was planning to fly to the North Pole, and Dietrichson was granted leave to participate since the navy regarded the polar flight as further training.
The expedition started with two Dornier-Wal flying boats (N-24 and N-25) on 21 May 1925 from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. After eight hours in the air the planes landed in separate leads in the ice in order to check their position. They turned out to be at only 87° 43' N. The planes had landed 3-4 nautical miles apart and it took some time to make contact. N-24’s one engine was damaged and after some days of work the plane was given up and Dietrichson, Oskar Omdal and Lincoln Ellsworth started over the ice towards N-25. On the way the first two fell into a lead and Ellsworth saved their lives.
The six crew members had to struggle for three weeks to make a take-off strip and get the N-25 ready. On 15 June they took off back to the north coast of Svalbard, where they were picked up by a passing boat. There was naturally public enthusiasm when they turned up again from the polar wastes.
The following year Dietrichson was to have participated on Amundsen’s transpolar flight with the airship Norge, but he withdrew “from family considerations”. According to Amundsen biographer Tor Bomann-Larsen it was rather because he was dissatisfied that Ellsworth was appointed navigator, which was something Dietrichson was trained to be.
In 1928 Dietrichson was again granted leave from his position in Kristiansand since he planned to travel to Canada and USA, where he had the chance to participate on Richard Byrd’s expedition by plane to the South Pole. However, when Amundsen asked him to join in the search for Umberto Nobile and his crashed airship north of Svalbard, he chose that instead. On 18 June 1928 they took off from Tromsø in a French Latham plane with a crew of four. The last radio contact with the plane was less than three hours later by Bjørnøya (Bear Island). Afterwards there was silence. That the plane had crashed into the sea was finally proved when a float was found in the sea 2½ months later.
Leif Dietrichson’s deep-blue eyes, good humour and ability as pilot and navigator were emphasised in his obituaries. He was posthumously appointed captain in the naval air force while the search for the Latham was still underway.
A memorial to Dietrichson was unveiled in Søndre park in Hønefoss by Dietrichson’s friend and colleague rear admiral Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen on 17 May 1949. Dietrichson’s son Gustav (1921-45) also became a military pilot and he served in the RAF, losing his life during a bombing raid over Germany in the last weeks of the war.
A street in Stavanger was named after Leif Dietrichson in 1956.
Susan Barr: Leif Dietrichson. (2011-12-12) I Store norske leksikon. Hentet fra http://snl.no/.nbl_biografi/Leif_Dietrichson/utdypning