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Crash of Flight 943
The Engines Ceased
Pan American Flight 943, bound from Honolulu to San Francisco had 24 passengers and a crew of seven on board, on October 17, 1956. It was just after three in the morning and they were flying approximately 21,000 feet above the Pacific and had covered about half of their journey. Suddenly the engines roared loudly and the plane dipped unexpectedly. The cause was the number one engine which was giving trouble. The propeller was out of control and the Captain was trying to position it into a stationary position so that it would give no wind resistance.
Then Captain Ogg addressed the passengers with his passenger address system. He announced that the one engine was running wild and they may have to land the plane on the water. He asked everybody to put on their life jackets and strap on their safety belts.
The Captain Was Going To Bring Down the Plane
The racing propeller whirled continuously, throwing the plane out of balance. The Stewardess Pat Reynolds began reciting the rules for an emergency landing. The passengers were to bring their reclining seats to upright position and tighten their seat belts as tight as possible. They had to take off their shoes and glasses and remove sharp objects from their pockets. There was to be no smoking.
When the order came to brace themselves, they were to bend over, rest their faces in pillows on their laps and wrap their arms under their knees. They should stay like that until they were sure the plane had stopped, since the first shock might not be the last. They had to inflate their life jackets just before leaving the plane.
There Was a US Coast Guard Ship Close By
The passengers got out the life jackets and put them on. The Richard Gordon’s were travelling with twin daughters under three years old and sleepy. They were a little upset at being woken up. In a few minutes everyone was ready for the ‘Brace to Ditch’ order.
Now the no 4 engine also ceased. Even on only two engines the plane might proceed safely, but the wind milling propeller of number one engine was acting as a drag, forcing the plane slowly down towards dark sea below. Captain Ogg, decided to wait for daylight to ditch the plane as in the dark it was much more difficult. Even with a normal sea running it is easy to rip a plane’s belly open on a wave. A Stratocruiser should come in with its nose about five degrees up from the horizon. To attempt this at night, by the feeble light of dropped flares, was suicidal. Fortunately, there was a US Coast Guard weather ship the Pontchartrain close by.
The Plane Descended Steadily
She alerted ships within 300 miles to speed to the scene. The Pontchartrain‘s Captain also send information about the weather, which was clear, and the wind was seven miles an hour from the north-east. The sea was calm. Captain Ogg ordered that coffee and juice be served to the passengers. They were kept calm by the presence of the Pontchartrain, brightly lit, which was below them. There was also a pathway of floating flares that was set out to guide them in.
The day broke, with the sun brilliant over a level blue green sea whose waves were only three or four feet high. Just after seven Captain Ogg announced that they would now rehearse the landing.
After he had rehearsed the landing, Captain Ogg announced that he would soon give them a ten minute warning. When he said, ‘this is it,’ they had to do as the stewardesses told them. The conditions below were ideal.The plane descended steadily.
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A Rough Landing
Captain Ogg watched the altimeter and the air-speed indicator. Flight Engineer Garcia jetted carbon dioxide into the wings, a precaution in case of fire. The Pontchartrain had spread fire extinguishing foam on the water, marking a runway like path some 2,500 yards long and 100 feet wide.
The two Gordon’s with their twins and Mrs Rebecca Jacobs, who also had a child, put their children between their legs, bent over them as well as their bulky life jackets allowed, and gripped the seat edges. The stewardesses took their stations in seats near the exits they would have to open if all went well.
One minute, said Ogg. Then, this is it.
The Sound of Metal Being Crushed
The big plane dropped towards the foamy runway. In the cockpit the crew braced themselves as best they could and watched the deadly sea come up to them. The uncomfortable children began to cry. They were a few feet above the water when Ogg dropped her. Then there was a great shock, followed by a second and worse one. Mrs Jacobe’s daughter, Joan was flung from her arms and so was Maureen Gordon from her mother’s. There was a sound of metal being crushed and the sound of water rushing in. The plane’s motion finally stopped and there was an instant of utter silence. Her left wing had dipped into the water, pulling her round to port, and her tail assembly had snapped off. The crew jumped to the exits.
All The Passengers Were Saved
Engineering Officer Garcia took charge of the raft on the starboard side. Second Officer Dick Brown had the main door open. Dick Brown pushed a life raft out and inflated it. Soon the passengers were all in the raft. There was no shouting, only low voiced instructions. Captain Ogg and Purser Reynolds were the last to leave. The US Coast Guard boat came up at a speed. They threw the raft a line and pulled it away from the sinking plane, which by now was nose down in the water. The almost unbelievable rescue had gone smoothly and swiftly. Within fifteen minutes after the emergency landing all aboard had been taken into the boats. When the passengers climbed the Pontchartrain’s ladder they found sailors standing in a line, each holding out a big white blanket and asking whether they would like a cup of coffee. It was an amazing and efficient rescue. All the passengers were saved.
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© 2017 Anita Hasch