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Philippine Clipper exceptionally recalled

22 September 2016

Plaque installed at the Philippine Clipper crash site—image provided by John Scofield

It was 21 January 1943, in the dire days of WW II for the U.S. and she was en route to San Francisco when she crashed during a descent for landing—losing all 19 souls on board. 19 persons killed while serving the country and the loss of one of the precious handful of Pan Am Airways flying clippers—this one the Martin M-130 Philippine Clipper.

World War II was exciting for her. The Philippine Clipper departed Guam only a single day ahead of the Japanese invasion, later enduring strafing by Japanese aircraft while moored dockside on Wake Island’s lagoon before its fall—after arrival in Hawaii 26 bullet holes would be found. Tragically, on another flight which occurred thirteen months later, she departed Hawaii for California though there was heavy weather at the destination. Learning that San Francisco could not be used for landing, a diversion to San Diego was recommended. Instead she headed to Clearlake, near Ukiah CA, for unknown reasons although it was familiar to PAA clipper captains.  Why did she leave when California was experiencing such foul weather? Was it PAA’s decision, or the military’s who now owned and controlled her? Some of the classified information on board was hard earned—collected on several submarine missions launching and recovering swimmers near Japanese held islands. Vital geological information on beach sediments and slopes needed for the planning of amphibious invasions. Also, information on the US Navy’s torpedo performance, or lack of it to be candid, as well as the new Japanese methods of finding and detecting the U.S. Navy’s submarines.

The clipper was found, finally, after the largest search effort of the day which took nearly a week’s time. Recovery was difficult as the nearest road was six miles away. What was found was gathered but nothing undiscovered could be left to chance for security reasons, so the site was destroyed, the captain assigned the blame and the war moved on. Nineteen souls met their fate in a violent flaming wreck while in service of their country that day—at least nineteen families were dealt a cruel irony since their family members were thought to be “safe” now that they were stateside—and World War II raged on, not taking even a second’s pause. So…think of them as well as others who have died in service … drink a toast or wear a red poppy perhaps…the important thing is to reflect upon and remember them for a moment. They are remembered the memorial is located at the entrance to the Hiller Aircraft Museum in San Carlos CA, very near San Francisco—please see the post Death of the Philippine Clipper for more.

There is another memorial, not as well known or seen as the Hiller Museum’s but hard won by a handful of persons who have an appreciation for the history as well as tragic end of the Philippine Clipper. John Scofield is a member of the party who reached the site and installed the memorial plaque (seen above). Largely unheralded, the effort should be acknowledged for its dedication, perseverance and good form. John provided these photos of their mission to the remote wreck location, which is on private land, near Ukiah CA.


John Scofield points across the draw to the spot where the Philippine Clipper crashed—image provided by John Scofield


John Scofield standing amid the crash debris—image provided by John Scofield


A larger piece of the Philippine Clipper’s crash debris after impact, dynamiting and bulldozing—image provided by John Scofield


John Scofield and friend rest among the Philippine Clipper’s debris—image provided by John Scofield

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