Friday, September 10, 2010

A Nearly Historic Flight

On September 10, 1925 the submarine R-4 spotted an unusual site about 10 miles off the coast of Kauai. There, moving slowly through the Pacific waters was a PN-9 seaplane, with the canvas torn from its wings and rigged as sails. The sub captain hoped against hope that this was the aircraft that they had been searching for and ordered his signalman to contact the plane and ask for identification. The crew of the R-4 was relieved to receive the reply, “PN-9 No. 1 En route from San Francisco to Nawiliwili.”

On board the PN-9 No. 1 was Lt. Byron J. “Smike” Connell, Chief Aviation Pilot S.R. Pope, Aviation Pilot First Class William H. Bowlin, Chief Radioman Otis G. Stanz, and the aircraft’s commanding officer, Commander John Rodgers. These five men had left San Francisco Bay on August 31 in an attempt to become the first aircraft to fly non-stop to Hawaii. They ran out of gas about 450 miles shy of their destination and were forced to land on the afternoon of September 1. They spent the next 10 days at sea in their makeshift sailboat, while an extensive sea and air search was conducted.

The resourceful crew was fortunate to have Commander Rodgers in command. He had served as the first commanding officer of the Naval Air Station on Ford Island and was thoroughly familiar with the seas surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. At one point the crew could see the searchlights above Oahu, but Commander Rodgers was an expert navigator and determined that, based on the currents and wind directions, an attempt to head for Oahu would cause them to miss the island by 10 miles and sail off into the Northern Pacific which would be the end for them all. Instead, he correctly judged the elements and, led them away from Oahu to the position just off of Kauai where they were discovered.
After landfall on Kauai the entire crew boarded a ship and headed for Pearl Harbor where they were treated to a hero’s welcome on September 11.