Pan Am's Clipper Romance Of The Skies Crashes

Pan Am Flight 7, registration N90944, Clipper Romance Of The Skies, was an around-the-world-flight originating in San Francisco that flew westbound with several stops before arriving in Philadelphia.

On the morning of November 8, 1957 it departed San Francisco on its first leg to Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii at 11:51am PST. Last contact with the aircraft consisted of a routine radio transmission between the pilot in command and a US Coast Guard cutter performing radar surveillance duty at Ocean Station November located at the approximate halfway point between the mainland and Oahu. The flight never arrived in Hawaii.

That pile is the wreckage of the Romance of the Skies, a Pan Am luxury airliner that left San Francisco International Airport 50 years ago this week en route to Hawaii - and vanished.

Investigators eventually found a handful of bodies and a few bits of wreckage floating a hundred miles north of the flight path - but nobody has ever figured out why the plane crashed, exactly where it crashed, or even whether all 44 people who were booked for the flight were actually on board that day.

THIS IS A GHOST STORY. FOR THE PAST 46 YEARS, the two of us—Ken, a newspaper publisher, and me, a history professor—have been haunted by what happened to Pan American Airways Flight 7 early in the evening of November 9, 1957. The airliner, Clipper Romance of the Skies, was on the first leg of a round-the-world journey that began earlier that day in San Francisco. Its next stop was to have been Honolulu, but the Boeing 377—known by the airline as PAA-944—never arrived. It crashed in the Pacific, killing 44 people, including Ken’s father, second officer and navigator Bill Fortenberry, and flight attendant Marie McGrath, who had been my fourth grade teacher.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser "Clipper Romance of the Skies" carried out a round-the-world flight originating in San Francisco, first stop being Honolulu. The aircraft departed San Francisco at 19:51 GMT for a 10-hour flight. Latest position report over the Pacific was at 01:04. Some days later, on 14 November, the US Navy carrier "Philippine Sea" located bodies and parts of wreckage some 940 miles east of Honolulu and 90 miles North of the intended track.