Alaska Airways Plane Missing - August 1937
The photo below shows a panel that I made up in the late 1990s to save a very fragile piece of a newspaper I had acquired, with some photos of the type of aircraft being discussed added. Below the photo is the compete text of the article, and the rest of the story.
San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, August 11, 1937
9 LOST ON AIRLINER!
Plane Missing On Hop Over Alaska
Three Women, 2 Tots Feared Dead As Ship Vanishes
Big Craft Long Overdue at Ketchikan in Journey From Seattle
Wilderness Gives No Clue to Fate of Passengers
Fears for the safety of nine persons, including three women and two children, who took off from Seattle Monday in a big flying boat for a flight to Ketchikan, Alaska, were expressed yesterday when the ship was long overdue at her destination and unreported.
The ship was on her maiden voyage to Alaska, where it was to have been put into service between Juneau and Bristol Bay. It was piloted by George "Tony" Schwamm, who is widely known here, former Hollywood stunt man and a son of a former Mayor of Los Angeles.
Aboard also were Mrs. Schwamm, Thelma Westley of Tacoma, Carl Anderson, president of the Alaska Airways, Mrs. Anderson and their two children, Carl Jr. and Marian, and two crew members, T. O. Hansen, Alaska, and Jack Mullin, New Jersey.
PLANE FITTED HERE
The big air liner, a twin-motored Savoia-Marchetti seaplane of the same type as those flown to Chicago by General Italo Balbo and fellow flyers of the Italian Army, was outfitted here at the Pan American Airways base at Alameda. It took off from here on July 5 and was flown in leisurely stages to Seattle.
On a flight from San Diego to San Francisco Schwamm was forced down in the ocean off Point Sur by fog, but continued his flight when weather conditions moderated.
The 8½-ton ship has accommodations for 22 passengers, a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour and fuel capacity for eight hours.
Schwamm said, while here, that the ship cost $150,000 and that the Alaska Airways would purchase another such ship for use in covering the North's vast distances.
This dramatic story actually had a happy ending, though it took me about 15 years to find that out. There were varying stories about what actually happened, though. The Knickerbocker News (New York) version printed in the evening edition the same day as the article above can be seen to the right, while the Montana Butte Standard reported at the same time that:
Coast Guard headquarters said tonight Pilot Tony Schwamm telephoned his missing seaplane with nine persons aboard was safe at Port Ludlow, about 30 miles from Seattle on Puget sound. Schwamm said, the Coast Guard reported, that his plane ran into a flock of about 3,000 seagulls as he was flying low over Puget sound about an hour after leaving Seattle for Alaska at 3 p.m. yesterday. The pilot told the Coast Guard the party stopped at Port Ludlow, a small community, overnight to see if repairs were needed, and planned to take off again tomorrow morning. Schwamm said he telephoned Seattle after hearing radio reports that the plane was missing. The big Italian-made seaplane had been overdue and unreported tonight, more than 24 hours after it left here on a hop of approximately 680 miles to Ketchikan. Weather conditions at Ketchikan were so bad that all planes were grounded. The Coast Guard cutter Cyane had been standing by at Ketchikan to render aid if asked, but Coast Guardsmen here said no search had been ordered for the plane. L. H. Gray of Seattle, financial director of the Alaska Airways Inc., said Schwamm's plane was purchased for use as a hospital ship in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska and that another similar seaplane had been obtained in the East for a projected Seattle-Ketchikan service.
The pilot of the aircraft, Tony Schwamm, died of natural causes in Alaska in February 1966 at the age of 63, and his wife lived to 101. Born on August 31, 1902, in California, George S. "Tony" Schwamm first made a name for himself when he worked as a stunt pilot in Howard Hughes' movie Hell's Angels. In 1937 he went north to Petersburg, Alaska, where he founded Petersburg Air Service to operate flights to Juneau, and then Alaska Airways to link to Seattle. During World War II he served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Tony moved to Anchorage in 1949 and was first Director of Aviation for the territory. He also became manager of Anchorage International Airport, and also was the Anchorage postmaster in 1963.
The aircraft, a Savoia-Marchetti S.55P registered as NC20K, had a very short life and never made a revenue flight. That brief story and a couple of excellent photos can be seen here, and two different photos and a bit more information appears in the book Seattle's Commercial Aviation: 1908-1941 by Ed Davies and Steve Ellis, published in 2009. The Wikipedia entry for the Savoia-Marchetti S.55 gives very different specifications than those reported in the 1937 article.