Ballard organization among groups searching for flying boat off American Samoa
An organization headed by Titanic discoverer and Lyme resident Bob Ballard is searching for the wreck of the Samoan Clipper, a Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42B flying boat lost off American Samoa in 1938.
Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust and its research vessel E/V Nautilus is working with the Air/Sea Heritage Foundation and SEARCH Inc. to locate, identify and document the wreckage. The expedition can be watched live as it unfolds through Saturday at www.nautiluslive.org.
“If successful, the resulting survey will characterize an archaeological site with major significance to aviation and American Samoan history, determine the final resting place of pioneering Captain Edwin C. Musick and his 6-man crew, plus investigate the wreckage for evidence as to what led to their fate,” according to the OET’s announcement of the expedition this week.
Searchers are using side scan sonar and, if the wreck is identified, a remotely operated vehicle with video cameras will be used to further explore it. It is believed that the wreckage is in water more than 10,000 feet deep.
The OET said there are no surviving examples of this innovative aircraft type in a museum or private collection, nor are there any known wrecks.
“Barely any trace of this trailblazing fleet of flying boats still exists above or below the water, and this expedition represents a unique opportunity to study one of the most consequential of these craft, in the context of its pioneering survey work and tragic loss,” the organization stated.
Samoan Clipper inaugurated service between the United States and New Zealand by way of Alameda, Honolulu, Kingman Reef, Pago Pago and Auckland.
The plane crashed an hour after takeoff from Pago Pago on Jan. 11, 1938. An oil leak forced Musick to shut down one of the plane’s four engines and turn back for American Samoa. He was unable to land and a Navy search plane later spotted an oil slick on the water.
OET said the expedition is being led by Russ Matthews, the president and co-founder of the Air/Sea Heritage Foundation and lead scientist Mike Brennan of SEARCH Inc. Ballard, who previously headed the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium, is monitoring the expedition remotely.
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