IT was 76 years ago last Friday that Pan American Flight 160 operated by a Martin M-130 flying boat Reg. No.: NC 14716 and named “China Clipper” crashed off the coast at Corcorite killing 23 of the 30 persons on board, including the pilot.
At approximately 9 p.m. on January 8 1945, the aircraft crossed the north coast of Trinidad at an altitude of 4,000 feet and commenced a gradual let down for a sea landing at Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Flight 160 had earlier departed the Miami harbour at 6.08 a.m. on a flight to Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, Africa, (now called Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) with intermediate stops at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Port of Spain, Trinidad.
During the approach into Trinidad, the aircraft was flown from the left pilot’s seat by Captain L W Cramer (serving as First Officer of the flight) with Captain CA Goyette (in command) in the co-pilot’s seat on the right. Approximately ten miles from the north coast of Trinidad, Goyette instructed Cramer to make the final approach and landing at Port of Spain.
Pan Am Port of Spain station then advised Flight 160 that the wind was calm, the lights to mark the landing area on the surface of the water were laid out on a 70° course, no traffic was in the area, and it was cleared to contact the company service launch in the water for final landing instructions.
At 9.09 p.m., Flight 160 was advised, “no traffic, you are number one to land in the Corcorite area.” Cramer continued his course over the row of lights and made a turn into the right hand traffic pattern. As the plane’s altitude was too high for the final approach, Goyette advised Cramer to circle the landing area again. Cramer complied, passed over the landing area a second time and started another 360° turn, this time to the left.
Goyette then advised Cramer that due to the adjacent hills to the north, a left-hand pattern was not desirable, and Cramer then turned into a right-hand pattern. This downwind course was continued for 1½ minutes beyond the No. 1 landing area light. A 180° turn for the final approach placed the aircraft at approximately three miles from the No. 1 light at an altitude of about 1,000 feet.
The final approach was started with a rate of descent of 600 feet per minute and an airspeed of 105 knots. At an altitude of 800 feet the rate of decent was reduced to about 300 feet per minute with the airspeed remaining between 100 and 105 knots. At approximately 700 feet above the surface the left landing light was turned on and the service launch was advised that the flight was on final approach. At an altitude of about 400 feet a light haze was encountered which did not materially affect the visibility. At an altitude of about 300 feet, the position of the aircraft was about half mile from the No. 1 light.
At an indicated altitude of 250 feet with airspeed at 100 knots Captain Goyette called out these readings to Cramer. Soon thereafter, Goyette, whose attention was still focused on the cockpit, heard what he described as a “tearing, shearing” noise, followed by a sudden lurch. As the plane came to an abrupt stop in the water, the hull broke in two at a point about three feet to the rear of the hull step forcing the rear part of the hull upwards and forward. Water poured into the cabin and a major portion of the flying boat sank immediately. Certain parts of the wreckage remained afloat for a short period while rescue work was conducted by company service launches and US Navy rescue and salvage units. The point at which the wreckage sank was 1¼ miles short of the No. 1 light which marked the nearest portion of the intended landing area.
The accident resulted in fatal injuries to 23 of the 30 occupants on board and a complete loss of the Martin M-130 flying boat. Among those killed were Captain Cramer and some members of a young family on their way to Liberia to serve as missionaries with the Africa Inland Mission.
The accident was investigated by the United States Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). On April 24, 1946, the CAB released its accident investigation report with findings “upon the basis of all available evidence”.
According to the CAB findings, the crash occurred at a point 1¼ miles short of the intended landing area and the aircraft first contacted the water at more than normal landing speed and in a nose down attitude. Forces created by the speed of the aircraft on its contact with the water in the excessive nose down attitude caused failure of the hull bottom and its structure, resulting in rapid submersion of the aircraft.
The Board found that Captain Cramer who was at the controls had very limited flight time on the aircraft type with the more experienced Captain Goyette acting in a supervisory capacity.
The landing of the aircraft in the nose down attitude under the then existing conditions of water surface and weather, was due to Cramer’s having misjudged his true altitude and his failure to correct his attitude for a normal landing.
The CAB concluded that Captain Goyette, in command of the aircraft and with full knowledge of Cramer’s limited experience in the Martin M-130, failed to exercise sufficient supervision of the landing.
On the basis of the its findings, the Board determines that the probable causes of this accident were (1) First Officer Cramer’s failure to realise his proximity to the water and to correct his attitude for a normal landing and (2) Captain Goyette, in command of the aircraft and with full knowledge of Cramer’s limited experience in the Martin M-130, failed to exercise sufficient supervision of the landing resulting in the inadvertent flight into the water in excess of normal landing speed and in a nose down attitude.
Accident Data Source:
USA CAB Official Accident Report