Pan Amer­i­can’s Samoan Clip­per Went Miss­ing More Than 80 Years Ago. Now a Search Team Hopes to Find It.

Fiji Sun - - Sunbiz - CORY GRAFF Feed­back: [email protected]­jisun.com.fj

More than 80 years af­ter Pan Amer­i­can Airways Sys­tem’s Samoan Clip­per went miss­ing, the underwater wreck­age of the pioneering fly­ing boat con­tin­ues to elude searchers. “There’s no ques­tion the wreck is nearby,” says Russ Matthews, pres­i­dent of the Air/Sea Her­itage Foun­da­tion, which in July, sup­ported by SEARCH, Inc., con­ducted a side-scan sonar sur­vey of the ocean floor around 12 miles off the western tip of Tu­tu­ila, the main is­land of Amer­i­can Samoa.

Pan Am’s famed chief pi­lot Ed Mu­sick was fly­ing the Siko­rsky S42B on the in­au­gu­ral mail route be­tween Hawaii and Auck­land when,

shortly af­ter take­off from Amer­i­can Samoa on Jan­uary 11, 1938, it ex­pe­ri­enced a me­chan­i­cal fail­ure. In­ves­ti­ga­tors later con­cluded it ex­ploded while dump­ing fuel to lighten the air­craft for land­ing.

Eye wit­ness ac­counts

Us­ing eye­wit­ness ac­counts and the dis­cov­ery of float­ing debris, searchers quickly zeroed in on a lo­ca­tion, though a search at that depth was not pos­si­ble with the tech­nol­ogy of the era.

In July, the ex­plo­ration ves­sel Nau­tilus dis­patched its re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle Ar­gus, which spent more than 123 hours scan­ning for traces of Samoan Clip­per at an av­er­age depth of over 9,700 feet. Matthews says pin­point­ing an un­der­sea ob­ject based on ob­ser­va­tions made on the sur­face is tough. “What nat­u­ral forces acted on the oil and debris re­leased from the wreck dur­ing its jour­ney back to the sun­light from more than 9,000 feet be­low?

“How far did it drift and in which di­rec­tion be­fore the searchers spot­ted it?”

Pa­cific Base

The Nau­tilus will be based in the Pa­cific for at least an­other five years. “Be­fore we left the area, I made two prom­ises to Mu­sick and his crew,” said Matthews. You are not for­got­ten. And we are not done with the search for Samoan Clip­per.”

The Siko­rsky S-42 in­cor­po­rated many in­no­va­tions, based on in­put from leg­endary avi­a­tor Charles Lind­bergh.

The Nau­tilus re­search ves­sel, op­er­ated by Ocean Ex­plo­ration Trust, uses two re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cles to con­duct ocean ex­plo­ration to a depth of 13,000 feet.

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