Jon Lindbergh, an acclaimed deep-sea diver and underwater demolition expert whose life as the son of Charles Lindbergh was shaped by the height of fame and the depths of tragedy, died on July 29 at his home in Lewisburg, W.Va. He was 88.
Jon 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 lost in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain in 1966.
The quest for adventure was in his DNA. In 1927, his father, who grew up in Little Falls, Minn., piloted the first solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in history. Charles Lindbergh and his wife, author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were glamorous symbols of the American can-do spirit, and they flew all over the world, drumming up interest in the fledgling pursuit of aviation.
But their prominence also made them targets — of curiosity seekers and paparazzi. On March 1, 1932, their 20-month-old son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped for ransom and killed in what the press called "the crime of the century."
In one of the most intense FBI investigations ever, authorities charged Bruno Richard Hauptmann with the murder. He was convicted in 1935 and electrocuted in 1936, maintaining his innocence.
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 his mother's parents' home on the Upper East Side, daughter Kristina Lindbergh said.
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," Kristina Lindbergh said. She said her grandmother 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 off the rocky north coast of Brittany. Jon, who went to school in Paris, was bilingual by age 5.
The family returned to the U.S. 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.
"Always a loner," Kristina Lindbergh wrote on Facebook of her father, "he adored the ocean as a child, and it became the canvas on which much of his life was drawn."
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.
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 TV 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.
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.