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The Crash of Transocean Flight 942
 Near Alvarado, Calif.
March 20, 1953

The "Skymaster"...

One of the workhorses of the Transocean fleet was the Douglas C-54G "Skymaster" - the military variant of Douglas' DC-4.  Originally built for the U.S. Army Air Forces for World War II, many of the C-54s were completed too late to see combat.  So, in the post-WWII economy, these planes would be excess to the service's needs, and were thus sold to private concerns.

One of the excess C-54s was USAAF tail number 45-623, which was sold to Pan American Airways, registered as N88942, and named the "Clipper Bostonian". 

Douglas C-54G, N88942, painted in Pan-Am livery colors

Fallen into Misuse...

Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2000-4 engines - each with nearly 1,500 horsepower, the airplane would fly one of the many international routes that Pan-Am would specialize it after World War II. After several years with Pan-Am, N88942 would again become surplus to their needs, and was leased to Transocean Airlines.

In 1953, Transocean Air Lines (TALOA) was the world’s largest nonscheduled air carrier, airlifting thousands of military personnel and tons of supplies to Korea as part of the Korean War effort. 

On March 20th, 1953, the four-engined Douglas C-54G was carrying 30 airmen and a crew of five bound for the Pacific island of Guam.  It left from Roswell, New Mexico, for the American protectorate, but was making an intermediate stop at Oakland Municipal Airport, where the plane was scheduled to make a crew change.

Harvey Rogers, Transocean's chief pilot and one of America's most experienced flyers, was at the controls, and the airmen on board were all maintenance specialists from Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, bound for a tour of duty with the 509th Bomber Wing.   The crew of five -- three pilots and two stewardesses -- were civilians.

After departing Roswell the flight progressed in a routine manner and at 2:51 in the afternoon, when in the vicinity of Winslow, Arizona, the Defense VFR flight plan was changed to Instrument, but still flying at least 500 feet over the top of the clouds. At 6:19 PM, the flight reported over the Newark, California, compass locator and fan marker at 8,000 feet where it held for 11 minutes.

At 6:27, Oakland Approach Control cleared Flight 942 for a straight-in range approach, to descend in the holding pattern to cross the Newark compass locator at 3,500 feet and to report leaving each 1,000-foot level. Three minutes later, at 6:30, the flight reported leaving 8,000 feet, and subsequently reported leaving each 1,000-foot level. Lastly, at 6:36, it reported being at 3,500 feet leaving the Newark compass locator inbound.

Without Warning...

However, as the aircraft neared Oakland at an altitude of 3,500 feet in a drizzling rain, it suddenly rolled to the right and, in a near-vertical position, struck the ground with its right wingtip at 6:38 in the evening.  The aircraft cart-wheeled across an Alvarado barley field, a fourth of a mile northeast of the intersection of Alguire Road and Whipple Road on the ranch operated by Frank and Rick Andrada, and disintegrated into a ball of flames and flying metal shards.  

"I saw men with their clothes on fire—some on the ground—some trying to get. up, staggering, falling back into the flames." said Mrs. Henry Andrade.

All 35 aboard were killed.  Click here to see the crew and passenger list of Flight #942

Investigators determined that the prevailing meteorological (weather) conditions possibly resulted in an accumulation of ice on the aircraft’s control surfaces, which became immobilized and may have caused the flight crew to lose control of the plane, but was unable to officially conclude such.

Legal Legacy...

Like many, the crash resulted in lawsuits, and one such legal matter was was originally rejected,  appealed (276 F.2d 280), and ultimately lead to the hearing before the United States Supreme Court.  The February of 1961 decision of "Nolan vs. Transocean Air Lines" lead to the application of "conflict-of-laws" principles to the capacity to sue in the state of California, as the widow claimed to a minority under his native South Carolina's definition (age 21) versus the definition of California (age 18), where Transocean was based.

Transocean Air Lines entered bankruptcy in 1962.

We are currently searching for photos of the crash site taken during the investigation. If you have any - please contact us.

 
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This page last updated Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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