Pan Am Flight 6
|Date||October 16, 1956|
|Summary||Engine failure, ditching at sea|
|Site||Pacific Ocean Northeast of Hawaii
|Injuries (non-fatal)||a few minor|
|Fatalities||0 (not including approximately 3,300 canaries in cargo hold)|
|Survivors||31 (all passengers, not including approximately 3,300 canaries in cargo hold)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 377 Stratocruiser 10-29|
|Aircraft name||Clipper Sovereign Of The Skies|
|Operator||Pan American World Airways|
Pan Am Flight 6 (registration N90943, and sometimes erroneously called Flight 943) was an around-the-world airline flight that ditched in the Pacific Ocean on October 16, 1956, after two of its four engines failed.
Flight 6 was scheduled to leave Philadelphia as a DC-6B and fly east around the globe with many stops (and a change to a Boeing aircraft at Tokyo) to San Francisco International Airport. On the evening of October 15, 1956 the departure from Honolulu was on Boeing 377 Stratocruiser "Clipper Sovereign Of The Skies" (Pan Am fleet number 943, registered N90943). The accident was the basis for the 1958 film Crash Landing.
The aircraft took off from Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, at 8:26 p.m. HST on the flight's last leg to San Francisco. After passing the point of equal time, the flight received permission to climb to an altitude of 21,000 ft (6,400 m). When that altitude was reached, the No. 1 engine began to overspeed as power was reduced. The First Officer, who was flying the plane, immediately slowed the plane by further reducing power and by extending the flaps, and an attempt was made to feather the propeller. The propeller would not feather and the engine continued to turn at excessive RPM. The captain decided to cut off the oil supply to the engine. Eventually, the RPM declined and the engine seized. The propeller continued to windmill in the air stream, causing excessive drag that increased the fuel consumption. As a result, the plane was forced to fly much slower, below 150 knots (280 km/h), and lost altitude at the rate of 1,000 feet per minute (5.1 m/s). Climb power was set on the remaining three engines to slow the rate of descent. The No. 4 engine then began to fail and soon was producing only partial power at full throttle. At 2:45 a.m. the No. 4 engine began to backfire, forcing the crew to shut it down and feather the propeller.
The crew calculated the added drag left them with insufficient fuel to reach San Francisco or to return to Honolulu. In the 1950s the United States Coast Guard maintained a ship at Ocean Station November between Hawaii and the California coast. On that night, the ship was the USCGC Pontchartrain. The plane flew to the Pontchartrain's location, leveled off at 2,000 feet (610 m), and circled until daylight on the two remaining engines.
The captain decided to wait for daylight, since it was important to keep the wings level with the ocean swells at the ditching impact. As fuel burned off while the plane circled the Coast Guard cutter, the plane was able to climb from 2,000 to 5,000 feet (610 to 1,520 m). At that altitude several practice approaches were made to see that the plane would be controllable at low speed (the goal was to have the lowest speed possible, just before touching the water). Delaying ditching until daylight also made the plane lighter so it would float longer.
Aware of the Pan Am Flight 845/26 accident the year before, in which a Boeing 377's tail section had broken off during a water landing, the captain told the flight's purser to clear passengers from the back of the plane. The crew removed loose objects from the cabin, and prepared the passengers for the landing. As on other flights in the era, small children were allowed on their parents' laps, without separate seats or seat belts. The captain planned to land near the ship in full sunlight, to improve the likelihood of rescuing passengers, but became concerned that the ocean waves were beginning to rise.
At 5:40 Captain Ogg notified Pontchartrain that he was preparing to ditch. The cutter laid out a foam path for a best ditch heading of 315 degrees, to aid the captain to judge his height above the water. After a dry run the plane touched down at 6:15, at 90 knots (170 km/h) with full flaps and landing gear retracted, in sight of the Pontchartrain at 30°01.5'N. 140°09'W.
One wing hit a swell, causing the plane to rotate, damaging the nose section and breaking off the tail. All 31 on board survived the ditching. Three life rafts were deployed by the crew and passengers that had been previously assigned to help. One raft failed to inflate properly, but rescue boats from the cutter were able to promptly transfer the passengers from that raft. All were rescued by the Coast Guard before the last pieces of wreckage sank at 6:35 a.m.
They were housed in the ship's officers' quarters and returned to San Francisco several days later.
There were a few minor injuries, including an 18-month-old girl who bumped her head during the impact and was knocked unconscious. Forty-four cases of live canaries in the cargo hold were lost when the plane sank.
- Captain Richard N. Ogg, age 43.
- First Officer George L. Haaker, age 40.
- Navigator Richard L. Brown, age 31.
- Flight Engineer Frank Garcia Jr., age 30.
- Purser Patricia Reynolds, age 30.
- Stewardess Mary Ellen Daniel, age 24.
- Stewardess Katherine S. Araki, age 23.
Books and periodicals
Adams, Michael R. Ocean Station: Operations of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1940-1977. Eastport, Maine: Nor'easter Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9779200-1-3. [Describes the ditching of Sovereign of the Skies and the rescue of its passengers and crew by the crew of USCGC Pontchartrain.]
October 29, 1956, issue of Life Magazine. The article by Herbert Brean, "Ordeal On Flight 943: The Last Five Hours," Life: October 29, 1956, p. 23. "Crippled Airliner With 50 Aboard Lands Safely"
- US Airways Flight 1549
- Tupolev 124 ditching in Neva River
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- Matthew B. Stannard (2009-01-23). "Danville pilot has historical predecessor". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Accident Investigation Report File No. 1-0121 U.S. Department of Transportation Archived Report
- Aviation Safety Network Description of the accident
- CAB Accident Report
- Time Magazine Article
- United States Coast Guard Video "Ready on Ocean Station November"
- San Francisco Chronicle "Danville Pilot Has Historical Predecessor"
- Crash Landing (1958) at the Internet Movie Database