Jon Lindbergh, Aviator’s Son Who Took to the Sea, Dies at 88
Jon Lindbergh, an acclaimed deep-sea diver and underwater demolition expert whose life as the son of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh was shaped by the …
Jon Lindbergh, an acclaimed deep-sea diver and underwater demolition expert whose life as the son of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh was shaped by the height of fame and the depths of tragedy that his family experienced, died on July 29 at his home in Lewisburg, W.Va. He was 88.
His daughter Kristina Lindbergh said the cause was metastatic renal cancer.
Mr. Lindbergh was one of the world’s earliest aquanauts. He explored the ocean depths, pioneered cave diving and participated in daring underwater recovery missions, including one to find a hydrogen bomb that was lost in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain in 1966.
The quest for adventure was in his DNA. In 1927 his father piloted the first solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in history, an epic feat that made him arguably the biggest celebrity in the world. Colonel Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a writer and the first woman in the United States to earn a glider pilot’s license, were glamorous symbols of the American can-do spirit, and they flew all over the world together, drumming up interest in the fledgling pursuit of aviation.
But their prominence also made them a target — of awe-struck curiosity seekers, paparazzi and evildoers. On March 1, 1932, their 20-month-old son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped for ransom from their home in New Jersey and killed in what the press called “the crime of the century.”
In one of the most intense F.B.I. investigations in the nation’s history, the authorities charged Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a carpenter, with the murder. He was convicted after a sensational trial in 1935 and electrocuted in 1936, maintaining his innocence to the end.
Between the kidnapping and the trial, Jon Morrow Lindbergh, the couple’s second child, was born in Manhattan on Aug. 16, 1932. The birth, for security purposes, took place in the home of his mother’s parents on the Upper East Side, Kristina Lindbergh said by phone.
His brother’s kidnapping, she said, affected him profoundly.
“They now say that trauma experienced by the mother carrying the child does affect the baby,” Ms. Lindbergh said. She said Anne Lindbergh admitted years later, after much therapy, that she had been so terrified of the possibility of something happening to Jon, she didn’t allow herself to love him as much as she felt she should have.
He grew up with constant security protection, initially with his parents at the heavily guarded estate of his maternal grandmother in Englewood, N.J. Even as a baby he received death threats. The New York Times reported in 1933 that two men were charged with trying to extort $50,000 from the family by threatening to kidnap Jon, then 6 months old, in a copycat version of the snatching of his older brother.
His parents were frequently absent during his early years, leaving him with his grandmother as they flew to various cities around the world on test flights and promotional tours. When he was 3, a car carrying him home from school was run off the road by photographers. The incident forced the Lindberghs to seek refuge in Europe in 1935.
They lived for a time in England, where the press still pursued them, then bought a small French island, Ile Illiec, off the rocky north coast of Brittany. Jon, who went to school in Paris, was bilingual by age 5.
The family returned to the United States in 1939, fleeing the gathering storm of World War II. They moved often, living in Westport, Conn., on Martha’s Vineyard and then in Detroit, where Charles Lindbergh worked in the aviation industry, in part by test-flying bombers.
(Colonel Lindbergh, an isolationist who opposed America’s entry into the war and whom many saw as a Nazi sympathizer, was barred from the armed forces by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he sought to demonstrate his patriotism by his work in Detroit and by flying combat missions in the South Pacific while commanding officers looked the other way, according to A. Scott Berg’s 1998 biography, “Lindbergh.”)
The family finally settled in Darien, Conn., where Jon went to high school and spent as much time as he could on Long Island Sound. “Always a loner,” Kristina Lindbergh wrote on Facebook, “he adored the ocean as a child, and it became the canvas on which much of his life was drawn.”
He went west to college, enrolling at Stanford; after a time he lived alone in a tent a few miles from campus to avoid dorm life. He studied marine biology; started mountain climbing, skydiving and cave diving; and joined the Naval Reserve. He graduated in 1954, the same year he married Barbara Robbins, also a Stanford student. They had six children.
After the couple divorced in the early 1980s, he married Karen Pryor, a renowned animal trainer. They divorced in the mid-1990s, and he married Maura Jansen, a veterinarian in West Virginia, where he moved and with whom he had twin daughters. She survives him.
In addition to her and his daughter Kristina, Mr. Lindbergh is survived by the twins, Anne and Alena Lindbergh, and five other children from his first marriage: a daughter, Wendy Lindbergh, and four sons, Lars, Leif, Erik and Morgan. He is also survived by two brothers, Land and Scott; a sister, Reeve Lindbergh Tripp; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
His father died in 1974 at 72; his mother died in 2001 at 94.
Jon Lindbergh earned his pilot’s license before he went to college, but his father steered him away from aviation as a career, believing that the fame of being Charles Lindbergh’s son would consume him, Kristina Lindbergh said.
“Our grandfather was always worried about too much exposure,” she said. “When my mother was pregnant with me, he told my parents that if I was a boy, not to name me Charles.”
And so while Charles Lindbergh had taken to the skies, Jon headed in the opposite direction. After college, he did postgraduate work at the University of California San Diego and spent three years as a Navy frogman, working with the Underwater Demolition Team. He appeared as an extra in the television series “Sea Hunt” and had bit parts in a few movies, including “Underwater Warrior” (1958).
He also worked as a commercial deep-sea diver and participated in several diving experiments. They included a 1964 project in the Bahamas called “Man-in-Sea” in which a submersible decompression chamber devised by Edwin Link allowed divers to stay deeper under water for longer periods.
As part of that project, Mr. Lindbergh and Robert Sténuit, a Belgian engineer, set a record by staying in a submersible dwelling for 49 hours at a depth of 432 feet, breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen that allowed them to swim outside the dwelling without harm despite the enormous pressure of the water above. Mr. Sténuit wrote an account of the experiment in the April 1965 issue of National Geographic.
Mr. Lindbergh was also involved in the development and testing of the Navy’s Alvin deep-ocean submersible, which he used during the recovery of the hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean. An American bomber had hit a refueling tanker in midair and dropped four hydrogen bombs, two of which released plutonium into the atmosphere, though no warheads detonated.
He later helped install Seattle’s water treatment system in icy waters as deep as 600 feet. Finding that he liked the area, he bought a secluded Georgian-style home on Bainbridge Island in the mid-1960s and raised his family there. He later farmed salmon in Puget Sound and in Chile as part of an emerging aquaculture industry and sold the fish to airlines and restaurants.
Charles Lindbergh lived long enough to see Jon flourish in his career and was relieved that his son had not followed him into aviation. “He removed any burden of his own career from his son’s shoulders,” Mr. Berg wrote in his biography, by telling Jon that much of what had first attracted him to aviation in the 1920s no longer existed.
“Thirty years ago, piloting an airplane was an art,” Charles Lindbergh told his son, but it no longer seemed like an adventure.
Rather than become a flyer, Charles Lindbergh added, “I think I would follow your footprints to the oceans, with confidence that chance and imagination would combine to justify the course I set.”