Pan American Flight V-1104
“The Philippine Clipper”
NC 14715, January 21, 1943
Copyright 2006 By: Don R. Jordan

Figure 1. The Martin M 130 Flying Boat.
(Pan Am publicity photo)

    In the late 1930s and 40s the Martin M 130 Flying Boat was in a class of its own for long-range, over-water commercial flight.  There were only three of these behemoths ever built.  All three aircraft were sold to and operated by Pan American Airways. This all metal, four engine aircraft was a virtual ship with wings, and was at the time (1935) the largest aircraft ever built in the United States.  This particular M 130 was named “Philippine Clipper”. Its sister ships were named Hawaiian Clipper, and the most famous was the “China Clipper.  Over the years the name “China Clipper” would become synonymous with all of the M 130 flying boat.

     The “Hawaiian Clipper” (NC-14714) was the first of the trio to come to grief.  On July 29, 1938 it would mysteriously disappear over the Pacific Ocean while enroute between Manila and Guam.  The “Philippine Clipper” (NC-14715) would crash into a hilltop in thick fog on January 21, 1943.  And the “China Clipper" (NC-14716) would crash at Port of Spain, Trinidad on January 8, 1945.  By that time Pan American Airways had begun purchasing the even larger Boeing B-314 Flying Boat for its commercial flee. By that time Pan American Airways had begun purchasing the even larger Boeing B-314 Flying Boat for its commercial fleet.

    This is the story of the last flight of the “Philippine Clipper” which crashed on the California coast near Booneville after arriving from Honolulu, Hawaii.  On board that final flight were nine crewmembers and ten passengers.  All were instantly killed when the aircraft slammed into a small peak at the 2,500-foot level in thick fog at 7:30 that morning.  The aircraft had departed Pearl Harbor at 5:30 p.m. the night before, and expected to reach San Francisco at approximately 10:18 a.m. on the 21st.

    The primary flight crew on this flight was Robert M. Elzey, aged 36, Captain, and Orven K. Judd, aged 23, First Officer.  The navigator was listed as John R. Maynard, aged 28.  Elzey was a former Naval Aviator before joining Pan American Airways, and had accumulated a total of approximately 4,941 hours of flying time.  He had more than 3,359 hours in Pan American’s flying boats alone.

    According to all radio traffic between the aircraft and both Hawaii, and the Mainland United States the progress of the flight throughout that night was entirely normal.  The only abnormality encountered was a fairly strong tail wind, which would allow the aircraft to arrive over the Bay area about three and a half hours earlier than expected. At 5:35 a.m. the flight notified the Flight Watch Officer (FWO) at Treasure Island, across the bay from San Francisco, that they expected to land at about 6:35 a.m. At 6:18 a.m. the flight amended their arrival time to 7:10 a.m.  At 6:22 a.m. the FWO at Treasure Island gave Captain Elzey the current pre-dawn surface weather conditions.  The weather was very poor indeed with heavy rain, strong winds, low ceilings and visibility of only 1 to 2 miles.  The wind, blowing across the bay at 45 kts., was creating a surface too rough to land on before daybreak.  The FWO suggested to Elzey that he divert to the alternate landing area at San Diego about two hours flying time to the south.

    In a new book by Don R. Jordan, due for release in early 2007, you'll read how this very large weather system affected the outcome of the flight.  You'll also read the final radio transcript between the FWO at Treasure Island, and the Philippine Clipper as it was trying to find a way down through the thick overcast above the San Francisco Bay.

Don R. Jordan
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