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Monday, 18 May 2015 09:28

450 miles adrift in a seaplane

An over water flight of more than 2000 miles was the ambition of the U.S Navy when commander John Rodgers with a crew of four left San Francisco for Hawaii, August 31 1925.

No seaplane had previously attempted more than 1200 mile flight. The expedition was to include three planes. Rodgers commanded the flying boat PN-9 No. 1. The PN-9 No. 3 was commanded by Lt. Allen P. Snody. The third plane was to have been a new design, which was not completed in time to join the expedition. Due to the risks, the Navy positioned 10 guard ships spaced 200 miles apart between California and Hawaii to refuel or recover the aircraft if necessary. The two PN-9s departed San Pablo Bay, California (near San Francisco) on August 31. Lt. Snody’s plane had an engine failure about five hours into its flight, was forced to land in the ocean, and was safely recovered.


departure
Waving before their departure from San Pablo Bay, John Rodgers (center) and his crew attempted the difficult and dangerous feat of flying over the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

inflight
The PN-9 voyage across the Pacific was two years before Charles Lindbergh's solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

crew
The crew of the PN-9 included Commander John Rodgers, commander and navigator; Lt. B. J. Connell, pilot; W. H. Bowlin, 1st class Aviation Mechanic's Mate; S. R. Pope, second pilot; and O. G. Stantz, radio operator.

Flying against fierce head winds, Commander Rodgers and his crew in the Navy seaplane PN-9 No1 had covered about 1900 miles when their fuel supply gave out...A last radio message was sent saying the seaplane was running out of gas and would probably have to descend. Rodgers plans were to land near the Aroostook, the next to the last vessels stationed along the route, refuel and continue to Hawaii. However, he lost his bearings..Failing to find its fuel ship the PN-9 was forced to land under the worst possible conditions - no power, a light wind and a high sea.
They could not signal for help as their radio sending set was dead without the seaplane being airborne. Ripping part of the fabric from the lower wing of their aircraft, they improvised a sail which carried them westward toward Hawaii.

hawaii-pn9-2
hawaii-pn9-3The Navy hunted for the PN-9 No. 1 for eight days before giving them up for lost. After sailing the plane for nine days the crew sighted Kauai and crafted a rudder to aid their sailing to the island.

r4
On the 10th day, the R-4 submarine sighted the plane near the entrance to Ahukini Harbor. The sub towed the plane around Kauai into Nawiliwili Harbor. The crew carefully secured the PN-9 before going ashore on September 10, 1925.

For eight days the five men were stranded on the seaplane on mid ocean. All the while hearing over their receiving set radio messages about themselves broadcast but unable to reply. After almost perishing for lack of food and water and after sailing 450 miles, they were rescued near the island of Jaui by the submarine R-4 which had spotted their smoke signal made by burning wing fabric in a pail. The five members of the crew, burned by the tropical sun, bearded and worn came ashore at Nawiliwili on September 11th 1925. Despite not reaching Hawaii by Air, Commander John Rodgers and his crew established a new non-stop air distance record for seaplanes of 1992 miles (3206km).

crew sept10
The five members of the crew, burned by the tropical sun, bearded and worn came ashore at Nawiliwili on September 11th 1925.



Sources:
Minute epics of flight by Lumen Winter and Glenn Degner
Lawrence daily , Sept 11 1925
Wikipedia
Hawaii Gov. website

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