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Charles A. Levine, 94, Is Dead; First Transatlantic Air Passenger
Obituary by Wolfgang Saxon from the New York Times, December 18, 1991.

Charles A. Levine, who became aviation’s first trans-Atlantic passenger in 1927 when he sponsored an attempt to beat Col. Charles A. Lindbergh to Europe, died Dec. 6 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 94 years old and had moved to Washington from New York City this fall.

His family said he died after a brief illness.

Mr. Levine flew into history with Clarence D. Chamberlin at the controls of a monoplane designed by Guiseppe Bellanca and owned by Mr. Levine, then a millionare businessman. Their 225-horsepower craft, named Columbia, had been ready for weeks. But the race to be the first to fly the Atlantic was lost to Colonel Lindbergh when a suit filed by one of Mr. Chamberlin’s would-be co-pilots, Lloyed Bertaud, marooned the Columbia in its hangar at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. Mr. Levine got a sheriff’s attachment quashed hours after Lindbergh, in the Spirit of St. Louis, lifted off from the same airfield. Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris on May 21 astounded the world and overshadowed the Chamberlin-Levine venture. To revive interest in the flight, Mr. Levine announced that Mr. Chamberlin would fly nonstop to Berlin, taking off June 4 with a mystery passenger —who turned out to be himself.

Record for Nonstop Flight

The plane ran out of gas before reaching its goal but still set a record of 3,911 miles in 43 hours of nonstop flight, surpassing Lindbergh’s mark by about 300 miles. With Mr. Chamberlin at the controls virtually the entire time, the Columbia landed 100 miles short of Berlin in the town of Eisleben on June 6.

Mr. Levine was born in North Adams, Mass., in 1897 but was reared in Brooklyn. He left school early to help his father in the scrap-metal business, set up his own company in 1917 and made a fortune with a salvage contract for the War Department, buying and disposing of spent shell casings.

He branched out into airplane manufacturing in the mid-1920’s and took flying lessons. He was said to have lost heavily in the stock market crash of 1929 but kept  his interest in aviation, backing flights and spending large sums on experimental planes. In 1937 he was convicted on a Federal smuggling-conspiracy charge involving 2,000 pounds of tungsten powder from Canada and then served two years in prison.

In Los Angeles in 1942 he was convicted of smuggling a German alien into the United States from Mexico and was sentenced to 150 days in jail. The alien was identified at the trial as a refugee from a concentration camp.

Mr. Levine is survived by a daughter, Ardith Polley of Palm Springs, Calif., five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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