Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Mystery of the Hawaii Clipper

On July 29, 1938, Pan American Flight #229 — the Hawaii Clipper — carrying nine crew members and six passengers from San Francisco to Manila, disappeared over the Pacific. The loss of the aircraft led to one of the most extensive sea and air searches in Asiatic waters. After twelve days of intense effort by Army and Navy teams, only a large oil slick was discovered, which analysis proved to be unrelated to the Clipper. Finally, on August 10, the search was called off. To this day, nothing of the plane or its passengers has been found. Nor have investigators ever been able to determine the cause of the crash.

Some reasonable theories.

The Clipper was a Martin M-130. Trim and seaworthy, she could ride out rough weather as easily as a yacht. She was equipped with state-of-the-art navigation systems and carried a comprehensive stock of safety and emergency equipment. But not all the gadgets in the world could save her if she hit the water hard enough to crack her hull or if she caught fire while dumping fuel.

Some flakey theories.

The Hearst press suggested that since one of the passengers, a New Jersey restaurant owner named Wah Sun Choy, president of the Chinese War Relief Committee, was carrying $3,000,000 in US gold-backed certificates (about $45,000,000 today) intended for the Kuomintang, there might be a motive for Japanese sabotage.

Another theory involved passenger Fred C. Meier, a pathologist from Harvard who was investigating a theory that plant spores carrying bacteria and borne by the wind played a major role in the international spread of disease. This research might also have been of interest to the Japanese, who were engaged in developing bacterial warfare in the years leading up to WW2.

Another passenger was Edward E. Wyman, Vice President of Export Sales for Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a company that provided the engines for the Hawk 75 pursuit planes used in China. Since air superiority was clearly an issue, Wyman was also presumed to be of interest to the Japanese.

The flakiest theory.

In 1938, a retired US Air Force officer and rabid Amelia Earhart hunter went to investigate Truk Atoll in Micronesia. He failed to find information on Earhart but came back with a grisly tale. He had encountered two Micronesian contractors who were building a Japanese Naval Hospital on Dublon Island (part of Truk Atoll) and had witnessed the literal entombment of 15 Americans in a slab of poured concrete. Their description of the individuals and their clothing left little doubt in the officer’s mind that they were the crew and passengers of the Hawaii Clipper.

This story was resurrected in a 2000 book, Fix on the Rising Sun, by Charles Hill, who theorized that the Hawaii Clipper was hijacked to Truk Atoll by radical officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. He describes the scenario in minute detail:

Empty crates had been shipped to the Hawaii Clipper by Japanese operatives working in San Francisco. During the stopover in Guam, the plane was boarded by two Japanese, who hid themselves in the prepared crates. One and a half hours into the flight the two Japanese emerged, took control of the Clipper and flew it to Dublon Island, where the fifteen Americans were taken ashore and buried in concrete.

The Hawaii Clipper was then painted in the colors of a flying boat of the Imperial Japanese Navy and flown to Japan. Years later, in 1945, she was sighted in Yokosuka by American military intelligence personnel, though for unknown reasons this was revealed to only a few senior officers of the US Pacific Command. The tale concludes with the revelation that the newly-developed Japanese fighter plane, the Zero, was powered by engines developed from the design of the Hawaii Clipper.

Lastly, for those who have been waiting for a conspiracy theory, Hill notes that so many having pursued the elusive Clipper with such limited success, one has to speculate why everyone eventually abandoned their search. “Perhaps it had became apparent to them that there are forces not only interested in, but actually intent upon, preventing this story from being told.” He ends on a hopeful note, however, predicting that “Truth will not suffer silently for long, or lie buried forever.”

The Hawaii Clipper at its dock at Pearl Harbor.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

To get access to the Clipper routes & facilities, the Japanese who'd forced down Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, simply tortured Noonan to give them all he knew - Noonan in late 1934 & 1935 had been responsible to Pan Am, his then employer, to lay out the entire routing and flight paths as well as determine facilities to use for Juan-Tripp's China Clipper fleet.

June 7, 2017 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lt. Com. Minuro Genda of the IJNAF was responsible for dropping the 55-galls of oil meant to confuse the Naval search and allow more time for the hi-jacked HI Clipper to reach Truk. BTW, he's the same guy who bombed the USS PANNAY, developed the six Japanese aircraft carrier fleet & timing for the attack on Pearl Harbor in concert with Adm. Yamamoto as well as shallow running torpedos ans low-angle attack fighters for the even. He promoted his best friend, Fuchida as the 1st. pilot in and last to leave; He is known as Father of the Zero at Mitsubishi (despite their using Fuchida's smiling face), has a bronze statue in Hiroshima; post-war (1954) he became a General in the Japanese Air Defense Force and was involved wit illegitimately obtaining Lockheed F-105 jets instead of US-offered Grumman F-11 Tigers. He retired in 1962 with more than 50-kills in WW II China & Pacific theaters & 5000 Jet hours as #1 Politician in Japan, passed away in 1989 almost 85. Once said he'd known Amelia Earhart to a West Point Cadet - that was in 1962 when the US government presented him the Legion of Merit, commander level award (Chennault & Doolitle got one) OH - check the credits for TORA, TORA, TORA & PEARL HARBOR movies to see Genda & Fuchida were technical advisors!!!

June 7, 2017 at 10:43 AM  

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