1938: Samoan Clipper lost with all aboard

Evening Post, 13 January 1938, p 14





(United Press Association – By Electric Telegraph – Copyright.)

(Received January 13, 10 a.m.)

NEW YORK, January 12.

After several hours of anxiety caused by the cessation of radio messages, the Pan-American Airways Company reported that its Samoan Clipper, bound for Auckland from Pago Pago, Samoa, had been lost with all her crew.

The announcement stated, on the basis of a radio message from Samoa: “It has been definitely established that Captain Edwin C. Musick and the six other members of his crew met their death on Tuesday morning at approximately 8:30 o’clock, Samoan time, when the Samoan Clipper was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin.”

It was added that the facts available showed that fire developed incidental to a discharge of fuel necessary to trim the ship to proper landing weight which, it is said, is “in line with conservative and normal practice.”

The dead, besides Captain Musick, are Captain C.G. Sellers, first officer, Mr. P.S. Brunk, junior flight officer, Mr J.W. Strickrod, first engineering officer, Mr. N.A. BrooKs, assistant engineer, Mr. T.J. Findley, radio operator (all from Honolulu) and Mr. F.J. McLean, navigator (from Alameda).


The Clipper had been missing for 22 hours 7 minutes when the Navy announced: “A motor launch is recovering parts of wreckage which has been identified satisfactorily as that of the Clipper.”

Naval authorities said that the searchers found an oil slick on long blue swells, the trail of which led to wreckage which was found at 14 degrees 8 minutes 20 seconds south, 170 degrees 51 minutes west, fourteen miles north-west, of Pago Pago. There was no trace of the crew.

The last radio message received from the Clipper reported: “Propeller brakes set on motor,” indicating that it was flying with three of the four motors functioning. Naval experts expressed the belief, prior to the receipt of further facts, that improper functioning of the propeller brakes or too sudden braking might have torn a disabled motor from its moorings and sent the craft spinning down on to the ocean out of control.




SAN FRANCISCO, January 12.

The first reports about the Clipper were alarming. A cablegram from Pago Pago quoted a native as seeing the Clipper flying off the western end of Tuttiila in a quantity of smoke.

No significance was attached to the native seeing smoke. Captain Musick was probably dumping petrol preparatory to coming down, and it was believed the native mistook the spraying liquid for smoke. It was recalled! that a similar dumping before a landing at Pearl Harbour caused many people to believe that a Pan-American plane was on fire.


A search was started immediately, the s.s. Avocet, stationed at the United States naval station, sending out a plane to search the route which it was believed the flying-boat followed.

The Honolulu wireless station KGMB offered facilities to broadcast messages to the missing plane, similar to those in the Earhart search.

Fears were not allayed when Washington naval officials described the searching facilities in the vicinity of Pago Pago as “very poor.” The naval base is equipped with a single utility seaplane, a minesweeper, and an old coal-burning tender, which participated, in the Earhart search.

The machine carried no passengers but had a crew of seven, including Captain Edwin C. Musick, commander on the first two survey flights to New Zealand and the first schedule flight last week from New Zealand to Honolulu.


The last word from the flying-boat was sent out at 8.37 a.m., when it sent a radio message that it was returning to Pago Pago because of an oil leak.

There was no further news for hours, until a message was received from Pago Pago announcing that the machine had been sighted on the water. Later it was reported from Apia that the Clipper had been found by a search plane from Pago Pago, and that all aboard were well, and that a cutter was rushing to her aid.

Pan-American officials held to the view that the absence of news did not necessarily indicate disaster. They expressed the opinion that it was possible that Captain Musick, after reporting the leak, landed in the water in lee of some South Pacific island.

Experts explained that mountain ranges might then be interfering with the reception from the plane’s radio, and hoped that night would bring more favourable radio conditions.

It is believed that the Clipper was forced down about 30 miles from Tutuila Tsland. and that it was to the north side of Tutuila Island when it sent the last message.

Aviation officials believe the mishap was so sudden that the plane’s radio operator did not have time to transmit a message.

Tutuila Tsland is 17 miles long and five miles wide. The western end is the lowest lying, and is closely cultivated. There are mountains 1500 ft high on the island.

Continued: Crew of the Samoan Clipper