Hawaii-bound airliner crashes into ocean with 44 aboard (1957)

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Hawaii airliner down, 44 aboard

Last message from point of no return

Massive air-sea search underway — Pan-America still hopeful

HONOLULU — The Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy launched a massive sea and air search today for the airliner “Romance of the Skies,” which was presumed to have gone down in “perfect weather” in the Pacific with 44 persons aboard.

Eight Coast Guard vessels, two Navy submarines, two merchant ships, 19 military aircraft and half a dozen commercial planes criss crossed a 100,000-square mile area in search’ for the missing Pan American World Airways Stratocruiser.

No hint of trouble

The double-decked luxury craft last reported its position at 5:04 pm (PST) Friday enroute from San Francisco to Honolulu, a little past the “point of no return” of the 2,400 mile flight.

At that time, the pilot, Capt. Gordon H Brown, Palo Alto, Calif., radioed:

“Clipper 944 2920 north 14135 west at 0104 flight flight flight level 100 on top estimating 2735 north 14510 west plus four missing plus 370.”

Pan-Am’s pilots normally report their position every half hour. The message, which in technical language gave the plane’s position and its altitude (10,000 feet, on top of clouds) and the temperature, gave no hint that the plane was in any trouble.

A Pan American spokesman, asked if there was any possibility of sabotage, replied:

“We just will not speculate on what happened to the aircraft. You are going to hear a lot of rumors that there was an explosion, or sabotage, but we just do not know what happened.”

>> See an airplane emergency info booklet from this actual plane, the year before the crash

Past endurance point

The plane was scheduled to arrive at Honolulu at 9:45 pm (PST) Friday. The plane had enough fuel to keep it afloat until 3 am (PST) today.

In San Francisco, Robert B Murray Jr., executive vice president of Pan American’s Pacific-Alaska Division, told reporters early today:

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“We are now past the gasoline endurance point, and the aircraft must be presumed to be down somewhere in the Pacific. The crew is experienced and well-trained and we are still hopeful.”

Another Pan-Am spokesman said other company pilots returning to San Francisco reported that seas, in the area were calm and skies were clear out of Honolulu. He called it “perfect flying weather.”

Coast guard Rear Adm. Stephen H Evans, who is coordinating the search effort, said “time ran out” after the plane had been missing some 14 hours.

He immediately launched massive air and sea search which will cover a 100,000 square mile area between Honolulu and 1.100 miles to the East toward San Francisco.

The Coast Guard at San Francisco identified the submarines as the USS Cusk and USS Carbonero which were cruising in the area.

The flying “A” tanker SS Washington and the Matson Freighter SS Hawaiian Refiner were diverted from their courses to help, the Coast Guard said. It added that a total of 19 military aircraft were making sweeps over the area.

At the time of the pilot’s last radio message, 5:04 pm (PST) the plane was 100 miles southwest of the Coast Guard weather ship Minnetonka, stationed about halfway between San Francisco and Honolulu. The Minnetonka left its station to join the search. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force planes from Hawaii were pressed into the search, and Pan American sent planes from both Honolulu and San Francisco. Two submarines and eight coast guard cutters were dispatched to the area and all surface vessels in the vicinity were alerted.

The Navy search rescue center at Pearl Harbor confirmed a report that a Military Air Transport Plane spotted blinking lights on the air route the missing plane would have taken, but search planes found nothing in the area It was reported that the lights may have been those of a passing ship.

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The last report from the plane came at 3:04 pm HST, when the captain radioed he had passed the point of no return 1,160 miles from Honolulu.

This was near the area where on Oct. 16, 1956, another Pan American plane developed trouble and ditched at sea. All 31 passengers aboard were saved when pilot Richard Ogg circled four hours on two engines to reduce the fuel load and then ditched near a Coast Guard weather ship. Although the tail broke off on the impact, everyone aboard scrambled into liferafts and were picked up within minutes by the crew of the coast guard ship.

Weather clear

Scripps-Howard Washington reporter Henry N Taylor, a passenger aboard a Qantas airliner enroute to San Francisco from Honolulu, said his plane joined in the search for the missing airliner but found nothing.

“We were flying about 15,000. feet when we got word of the missing plane. Capt. Max Bamman dropped down to 5,000 feet and followed along the track of the plane’s last reported position for about 200 miles.

“The weather was clear and there was a full moon. But no sign of the plane.”

Life rafts spotted

San Francisco — Pan American Airways reported today yellow objects “believed to be life rafts” were seen in the ocean near the last known location of the missing Pan American plane. The report came from the coast guard in Honolulu, PAA said.

An air force pilot radioed the location as 28 degrees 11 minutes north latitude, 142 degrees 45 minutes west longitude. The report did not say whether survivors were sighted.

A coast guard cutter was sent to the spot and should arrive about 12:45 PM PST, PAA said.


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