The Ditching of Pan Am Flight 6

On October 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 power.

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 power, at full throttle. At 0245 number 4 engine began to backfire and power then began to drop off. The number 4 propeller was feathered normally.

The crew calculated that with the additional drag, they no longer had sufficient fuel remaining, to reach San Francisco, or return to Honolulu.  That left no other option, than to ditch the plane in the ocean.

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 remaining 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 longer.

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 remained retracted,

Ditching-1

Ditching-2

Ditching-3

Ditching-4

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 head.  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.

Flight Crew

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.

February, 2009

Robert J. Boser    
Editor-in-Chief 
AirlineSafety.Com

Return to Editorials Page

 


HOME | UNIONS | FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS | WHAT'S NEW? | EDITORIALS | LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 

QUOTATIONS | AVIATION NEWS  | BOOK REVIEWS | SAFETY ARTICLES | LINKS | CONTACT US

All Material © 1997-2014  All rights are reserved. No part of this web site may be reproduced in any way without expressed written consent