The 'Miss Macao' Crashes in the First Hijacking of a Commercial Aircraft

Fantastic but true." With those three words, spoken 60 years ago this month, the managing director of Cathay Pacific Airways introduced Hong Kong to the horror of skyjacking.

"Cathay Pacific Airways refrained from making a statement earlier as the facts were so fantastic that they appeared incredible," Sydney de Kantzow continued on July 31, 1948, 15 days after one of the airline's Catalina amphibious aircraft, Miss Macao, plunged out of the sky in the first recorded incidence of piracy on a commercial airliner. The plane had crashed into the sea, killing 26 of the 27 people on board.

Miss Macao was a Catalina seaplane, owned by Cathay Pacific and operated by a subsidiary. On 1948-07-16 she became the victim of the first hjiacking of a commercial aircraft. Piracy for robbery and ransom was the motive.

The Miss Macao was on a routine flight from Macau to Hong Kong. She was hijacked a few minutes after take off by four men, three armed with guns, one of whom demanded that the pilot surrender the controls. The pilot, Dale Warren Cramer, refused and the co-pilot attacked one of the intruders with a flag-post rod. In the confusion, Cramer was shot dead, and collapsed onto the flight controls. The plane went into an uncontrolled dive and crashed into the sea. Twenty-five of the twenty-six people aboard died in the crash. The sole survivor later confessed to being one of the hijackers.

The lone survivor, Huang Yu, was brought to court by the Macau police, but the Macau court suggested that the prosecution should be brought in Hong Kong instead, since the plane was registered in Hong Kong and most of the passengers were from there. However, the British colonial government in Hong Kong stated that the incident happened over Chinese territory in which the British have no jurisdiction. Since no state claimed authority to try him, Huang was released without trial from Macau prison on June 11, 1951, and was then deported to China.

It is claimed that: "The first act of piracy for gain in the history of aviation" took place aboard a PBY Catalina flying boat named Miss Macao owned by Cathay Pacific Airways, which was hijacked during a flight between Macau and Hong Kong on 16 July, 1948.

Until this century, the Pearl River Delta had been a hotbed of piracy. Neither Imperial China nor its successor, the Kuomintang, was able to control it. Neither was the British Royal Navy. In 1948, there was still a civil war going on in China, and Canton (Guangzhou) was still in Nationalist hands.

Seaplane hijacked by pilot; control was lost during struggle in the cockpit and the aircraft crashed into the sea.

PROBABLE CAUSE: "Sudden loss of control by the pilot as a result of being incapacitated by an armed passenger. The police authorities in Macau were in possession of certain evidence which appeared to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the crew of the aircraft were subjected to armed attack by certain passengers shortly after takeoff from Macau for Hong Kong."

In a Macao teahouse, Wong Yu, a babyfaced, 24-year-old farmer and a few of his friends decided to sell their rice paddies and take up piracy. They had $3,000 for expenses, and one of them, Mexican-born Chiu Tok, had learned to fly planes in Manila. Last week, Wong Yu confessed that they had committed the first recorded act of air piracy.

Their quarry was a Catalina flying boat of Cathay Pacific Airways which made a regular run between Portuguese Macao and British Hong Kong.