The Ditching of Pan Am Flight 6
16, 1956, Pan American Flight 6, which was a four-engine Boeing 377
Stratocruiser, took off from Honolulu and headed northeast towards San
Francisco, at 8:26pm, HST.
After passing PET (the
point of equal time), Flight 6 was cleared to climb
to an altitude of 21,000 ft, MSL. Almost simultaneously with
leveling of at that altitude, the number
1 engine began to overspeed, as climb power was reduced to cruise
The First Officer,
who was flying the plane, immediately reduced airspeed by further
reducing power and by extending the flaps. He then made an
attempt to feather
the number 1 propeller. But, the propeller would not feather and the
engine continued to turn at excessive RPMs. The captain then decided to
cut off the oil supply to the engine. Eventually, the RPMs declined and
then the engine seized. However, the propeller continued to windmill in
the air stream, causing excessive parasite drag, which significantly
increased the fuel consumption.
As a result, the plane
was forced to
fly much slower----below 150 knots----while it began to lose altitude
at the rate of
1,000 feet per minute. Climb power was then added to the remaining
three engines, in an attempt to slow that rate of descent. That is when
number 4 engine began to fail. It was able to produce only partial
at full throttle. At 0245 number 4 engine began to backfire and
power then began to drop off. The number 4 propeller was feathered
The crew calculated that
with the additional drag, they no longer
had sufficient fuel remaining, to reach San Francisco, or
Honolulu. That left no other option, than to ditch the plane in
During that era, the
United States Coast Guard maintained a ship at a general location known
as Ocean Station November, between Hawaii
and the California coast. PAA Flight 6 was flown to that USCGC Pontchartrain's
location and then circled until daylight. That B-377 was finally able
to level off at 2,000 feet MSL, with just the power of the two
engines. While waiting for daylight, fuel was burned off making the
plane lighter, less flammable, and potentially more buoyant.
Captain Ogg had good
reason to suspect that the Boeing 377's tail
section would break off, when it impacted the water. He
instructed the purser to relocate all the rear-most passengers to
positions as far forward as possible. The plan was to land near the
USCG ship in full sunlight, to improve
the likelihood of rescuing passengers. But, as the ocean waves
were beginning to rise and swell, Captain Ogg decided he could wait no
At 0540, 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's vision of his actual
height above the water. After a dry run, the plane touched down at
0615, with a minimal speed of 90 knots and full flaps, in sight
of the Pontchartrain, at 30°01.5'N. 140°09'W.. The landing gear
One wing impacted a swell,
causing the plane to rotate, inflicting damage to the nose section and
breaking off the tail. Nevertheless, 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 life raft failed to
fully 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 0635.
There were only a
few minor injuries, including an 18-month-old girl
who was knocked unconscious, from a bump on her
While some luggage and personal effects were picked up by the Coast
Guard boats, it was not possible to save live dogs and birds, which
were in the cargo holds.
Richard N. Ogg, age 43.
Officer George L. Haaker, age 40.
Richard L. Brown, age 31.
Engineer Frank Garcia Jr., age 30.
Patricia Reynolds, age 30.
Mary Ellen Daniel, age 24.
Katherine S. Araki, age 23.
Robert J. Boser
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