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Islands by Air

Pan American Airways’ Hawaii Clipper leaves on a 20-hour flight.



PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF CLYDE SUNDERLAND

THE ABOVE PHOTO is believed to show the first of a series of weekly passenger flights leaving Alameda for Honolulu in October 1936. During the preceding two years, this flight transported only packages, postcards and letters. The aircraft is a Martin M-130, capable of carrying — in addition to mail — 15 passengers including crew and was built for Pan American Airways in 1935. The M-130, coincidentally, traveled at 130 miles per hour, making the 2,400-mile journey to Honolulu in a little less than 20 hours. The pictured aircraft was called the Hawaii Clipper. By 1938, service had been extended from the Bay Area to Manila, via Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island and Guam. In all, that journey took 60 hours one-way spread over six days (today it takes 10 hours total). Unfortunately, in late July 1938, a Hawaii Clipper flight on the Guam-to-Manila leg mysteriously vanished, launching one of the most intensive searches ever to take place in Asian waters. No trace of the plane or its passengers was ever found; adding to the mystery, the massive airplane disappeared in the same general area where one year earlier aviatrix Amelia Earhart was lost. One theory holds that fanatical Japanese naval officers hijacked the plane — the first hijacking in aviation history — and landed it at Truk Atoll, where they murdered the 15 passengers and entombed them in wet concrete, then flew on to Tokyo. To this day, no definitive answer for the plane’s disappearance has been found.

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