"The balloon held 900 cubic meters of hydrogen," she recalls. "It was called The Shooting Star and was the very last word in balloons. I'll never forget the trip as long as I live."
The Marvingt-Garnier balloon was virtually unnavigable. When The Shooting Star took off from Nancy a rope connected to the ground tilted the gasbag and released pounds of precious hydrogen.
The balloon sailed north from Nancy at an altitude of 1,000 feet over the German border, past the Krupp factories at Essen, past dazzled schoolchildren and peasants. Because of the hydrogen lost at take-off, the balloon wouldn't rise higher than 1,200 feet. Near Essen the wind shifted suddenly and carried the craft northwest over Holland toward Amsterdam. "We were in the clouds most of the time," said Mademoiselle Marvingt, "but we thought after we reached Amsterdam that the most dangerous part of the trip was over. We knew we were losing altitude, but we knew that the Channel winds would sweep us over to England before nightfall."
The wind did carry the balloon off the Continent and over the Channel. But the temperature dropped to below freezing, and the basket began to rise and fall dangerously close to the waves. Before Marvingt and Gamier were five miles offshore they found themselves in the middle of a snowstorm.
Marie threw out the last of the ballast, but still the balloon wouldn't rise more than 100 feet above the waves, often dipping until the basket actually was in the water.
Night came, and the balloon continued bobbing into the choppy Channel. "My overcoat and wool stockings were no help," Marvingt said. "I was freezing. Besides that, we couldn't tell which way we were heading."
After battling the storm for five hours, the balloon suddenly lifted and rose through the clouds. Two miles distant Marie saw a light. It was the English coast. The balloon started to lose altitude and was headed toward the cliffs on the coast when an updraft caught it and lifted the pair over the top.
"It was still dark," Marie said. "We let out most of the hydrogen and put down in a pasture half a mile from the coast [near Southwold]. We barely had the energy to climb out of the basket. The next day we took a train to London, where we were treated as heroes."
The Channel crossing took 14 hours and was Marie Marvingt's most memorable exploit, but it wasn't her last. That same year she won a closed-circuit speed race for airplanes and a world bobsled championship (the first woman ever to do so). Fascinated by the humanitarian possibilities of aviation, she applied both her nursing skill and pilot's experience to designing an ambulance-plane, which during World War I carried a total of 7,000 wounded soldiers. But even air-nursing was too tame for her. Shortly after the declaration of war, she talked a general into letting her join the army and served six months in the front lines dressed as a man. About 1923 Mademoiselle Marvingt experimented with metal skis on the Sahara sands and founded a ski school for Moslems.
In addition to the dangers she has deliberately sought, Marie Marvingt has found others she wasn't looking for. In 1912 an excursion boat on which she was riding capsized, and she had to swim 12 hours before being rescued. When she was 60 she was attacked by two bandits but, utilizing her early boxing training, she managed to knock one out and send the other scurrying away with a broken nose.