16 October 1958 – Pan Am Flight 6 emergency landing

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser of the Pan Am Flight 6, made an emergency landing in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The Pan Am Flight 6 (sometimes erroneously referred as Flight 943) was the multi-stopover airline passenger flight around the world, performed all the way by several different aircraft. The flight began with Douglas DC-6B that took off from the airport in Philadelphia, heading Europe, and then Asia. This ambitious multi-stop flight went according to the initial schedule, but until its last stage.

The last leg of the Pan Am Flight 6 was a route from Hawaii to San Francisco – in the evening of 15th October, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named ´Sovereign of the Skies´ (N90943) took-off from Honolulu airport. After several hours of flight, about 01:20 hrs and at an altitude of 21,000 feet (6,400 meters), problems with No.1 engine occurred. The crew made several attempts to deal with this failure, but they failed. The engine continued to run at too high RPM, so in his final attempt, the captain decided to cut off the oil supply and thus shut it down.

Unfortunately, there was no possibility to feather the propeller of No.1 engine, which resulted in excessive drag and increased fuel consumption. Despite the crew´s effort to continue the flight, the aircraft was losing altitude with a rate of 1,000 feet per minute. Increasing the power of engines, to maintain the altitude, caused the failure of No.4 engine and it had to be turned off at 02:45 hrs.

Shortly it became clear that the aircraft already consumed too much fuel and was not able to reach San Francisco nor fly back to Honolulu. The captain radioed this emergency situation and established the radio communication with USCGC Pontchartrain – a US Coast Guard ship patrolling the waters between Hawaii and California. The Stratocruiser approached the ship at an altitude of 2,000 feet and circled over it until sunrise.

On morning of 16th October, with full flaps and landing gear retracted, the Pan Am Flight 6 touched the surface of the Pacific Ocean, close to US Coast Guard ship. While ditching, the ´Sovereign of the Skies´ hit as swell, rotated almost 180 degrees port, suffered damage to the nose section and breaking-off the tail. Fortunately, all 31 people on board (24 passengers and 7 crew members) survived the crash with just minor injuries and shortly were rescued by USCGC Pontchartrain.

The ´Sovereign of the Skies´ sank at 06:35 hrs, approximately 20 minutes after water-landing.

Later, the Pan Am Flight 6 crew was awarded for performing safe ditching, without any fatalities. Captain Richard N. Ogg became the first ever pilot to receive the Civilian Airmanship Awards, presented by the Order of Daedalians.

The story of Pan Am Flight 6 was filmed in ´Crash Landing´ movie, released 1958 and starring Gary Merril or Nancy Reagan (Ronald Reagan´s spouse).

Photo: William Simpson, US Coast Guard – US Coast Guard Photo (Wikipedia, Public Domain)