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. “PanAm 90943, Flight 6, declaring an emergency over the Pacific” was the message received by the Combat Information Control and then radioed to Coast Guard Radioman Doak Walker, onboard Coast Guard Cutter Pontchartrain, on duty between Hawaii and the California Coast.
PanAm Stratocruiser “Sovereign of the Skies” had lost one, then two engines flying over the Pacific, halfway to destination, the point of no return.
The Boeing Stratocruiser was a state of the art, luxurious aircraft in 1956. Her flight crew of seven, with veteran Captain Dick Ogg in command, took off at 2026 hours with a flight plan of eight hours and 26 minutes from Honolulu to San Francisco. In the cabin Purser Pat Reynolds and her colleagues were preparing to serve a light supper to the passengers.
Things were going smoothly when suddenly the placid atmosphere of the flight deck was shattered when the soothing hum of the engines gave way to a shrill high-pitched whine and the propeller noise increased quickly. A quick glance at the instruments gave the crew some bad news, the prop on the number one engine was running away.
Co-Pilot, Lee Haaker, immediately slowed the plane so the propeller would be easier to control while Flight Engineer Frank Garcia shut the fuel to number one engine and pulled back the throttles on the other three engines. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to help. Captain Ogg moved from the Navigators seat to the cockpit to take control of the plane. He immediately radioed Ocean Station November for assistance with a ditching, and then told Co-Pilot Haaker to pick up bearing to the Coast Guard Cutter Pontchartrain, about 40 miles from their present position.
Enroute to Station November, the number four engine was not responding, running only at half power. The crew discovered that they could keep the plane in the air with the two inboards and partial power on number four engine. With not enough fuel to make it to San Francisco they were committed to an ocean landing. Because of the clear bright night, the crew soon sighted the Pontchartrain. However, Captain Ogg had to continue circling until daylight when conditions were best for the ditching.
The Coast Guard Cutter then sprayed a foam path on the ocean to help the Captain with direction and judging the aircraft’s height and at dawn, Pan Am Flight 6 made her final landing.
One wing impacted a swell, causing the plane to rotate, inflicting damage to the nose section and breaking off the tail. 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.
With the help of the well-trained crew and the aid of the Coast Guard, all 31 crew and passengers boarded three life rafts, with no loss of life or injury before the last piece of wreckage sunk at 0635.
It was indeed a remarkable feat of airmanship that Captain Dick Ogg, with the help of his crew was able to accomplish this water landing – years before Captain Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson.”