Jon Lindbergh, a celebrated deep-sea diver and underwater demolition expert whose life as the son of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh was marked by the height of fame and the depths of his family’s tragedy, died on July 29 at his Lewisburg, W. Va. He was 88 years old.
His daughter Kristina Lindbergh said the cause was metastatic kidney cancer.
Mr. Lindbergh was one of the world’s first aquanauts. He explored the depths of the ocean, pioneered cave diving and participated in daring underwater rescue missions, including one to find a hydrogen bomb that was lost off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean in 1966.
The search for adventure was in his DNA. In 1927, his father piloted the first non-stop transatlantic single flight in history, an epic achievement that made him arguably the greatest celebrity in the world. Glamorous symbols of the American can-do spirit, Colonel Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a writer and the first woman in the United States to obtain a glider license, flew together around the world and sparked interest in the world young occupation with aviation.
But her notoriety also made her a target – by awesome curious people, paparazzi, and malefactors. On March 1, 1932, her 20-month-old son Charles Jr. was kidnapped from her New Jersey home for ransom and killed in what the press dubbed the “Crime of the Century.”
Between the abduction and the trial, Jon Morrow Lindbergh, the couple’s second child, was born in Manhattan on August 16, 1932. The birth took place at his mother’s parents’ home in the Upper East Side, Kristina, for safety reasons. instead of saying Lindbergh by phone.
The kidnapping of his brother, she said, hit him deeply.
“You are now saying that the trauma to the mother who is carrying the child affects the baby,” said Ms. Lindbergh. She said Anne Lindbergh admitted years later, after long therapy, that she was so terrified of the possibility that something might happen to Jon that she hadn’t allowed herself to love him as much as she should have .
He grew up under constant security protection, initially with his parents on his maternal grandmother’s heavily guarded property in Englewood, NJ. He received death threats as a baby. The New York Times reported in 1933 that two men were charged with attempting to extort $ 50,000 from the family by threatening to kidnap the then six-month-old Jon in a copycat version of the abduction of his older brother.
His parents were often absent in his early years, leaving him with his grandmother, who flew to various cities around the world on test flights and promotional tours. When he was 3 years old, a car that was bringing him home from school was driven off the street by photographers. The incident forced the Lindberghs to seek refuge in Europe in 1935.
They lived in England for a while, where the press still followed 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 the age of 5.
The family returned to the United States in 1939 and fled the approaching storm of World War II. They moved often, living in Westport, Connecticut, 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 who many viewed as a Nazi sympathizer, was expelled from the armed forces by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he tried to demonstrate his patriotism through 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 biography “Lindbergh” from 1998.)
The family eventually settled in Darien, Connecticut, where Jon went to high school and spent as much time as possible on Long Island Sound. “Always a loner,” wrote Kristina Lindbergh on Facebook, “he loved the sea as a child, and it became the canvas on which a large part of his life was drawn.”
He went west to college and enrolled at Stanford; after a while he lived alone in a tent a few miles from campus to avoid dormitory life. He studied marine biology; began mountaineering, skydiving, and cave diving; and joined the Marine Reserve. He graduated in 1954, and in 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 was moving and with whom he had twin daughters. She survived him.
In addition to her and his daughter Kristina, Mr. Lindbergh leaves behind 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 the age of 72; his mother died in 2001 at the age of 94.
Jon Lindbergh got his pilot’s license before going to college, but his father diverted his aviation career as he believed the fame of being Charles Lindbergh’s son would consume him, Kristina Lindbergh said.
“Our grandfather was always concerned about too much exposure,” she said. “When my mother was pregnant with me, he told my parents not to name Charles as a boy.”
And while Charles Lindbergh was soaring, Jon was walking in the opposite direction. After college, he completed postgraduate studies at the University of California San Diego and spent three years as a Navy Frogman on the Underwater Demolition Team. He appeared as an extra on the television series “Sea Hunt” and had a number of roles in several films, including “Underwater Warrior” (1958).
He also worked as a commercial deep-sea diver and participated in several diving experiments. This included a 1964 project in the Bahamas called Man-in-Sea, in which a diving decompression chamber designed by Edwin Link enabled divers to remain deeper underwater for extended periods of time.
As part of this project, Mr. Lindbergh and Robert Sténuit, a Belgian engineer, set a record by staying for 49 hours in an underwater dwelling at a depth of 432 feet, breathing in a mixture of helium and oxygen that allowed them to be outside of the Swimming in water, despite the enormous pressure of the water above, remaining undamaged. 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 submersible, which he used to recover the hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean. An American bomber hit a tanker in midair and dropped four hydrogen bombs, two of which released plutonium into the atmosphere, although no warheads detonated.
He later helped install Seattle’s water treatment system in icy waters to a depth of 600 feet. Finding he liked the area, he bought a secluded Georgian-style house on Bainbridge Island in the mid-1960s and raised his family there. He later raised salmon in Puget Sound and 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 hadn’t followed him into aviation. “He took every burden of his own career off the shoulders of his son,” wrote Mr. Berg in his biography, telling Jon that much of what 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 becoming an aviator, Charles Lindbergh added, “I think I would follow your footsteps into the oceans knowing that chance and imagination will combine to justify the course I have set.”
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