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All those Wonderful Stories

Flying: Hours of Boredom Interrupted by Moments of Sheer Terror

By Arue Szura, Folded Wings: A History of Transocean Air Lines

Captain Ted Vinson and his crew left Wake Island on a routine flight to Guam on May 12, 1950.  Sixteen construction workers were in the rear of the DC-4 and a load of cargo was tied down in the front of the cabin.


Engine number one began to run rough about two hours out. Vinson feathered it and radioed TAL at Wake Island that he was heading back to the base. Before many minutes had passed, engine number two blew an oil line and was also feathered. The aircraft immediately began to lose altitude. Vinson called Purser John Foster up front and directed him to inform the passengers of the emergency and that the rear door would be jettisoned in an attempt to lighten the load.


Next, Foster grabbed a hatchet and cut the cargo ropes. He then tied a rope around his waist and secured the other end to the bottom of a seat frame before he and some of the passengers began throwing cargo out the door.


Just as he reported back to Vinson, engine number four quit.


      "Son, you'd better make this airplane lighter or we're all going for a swim."
      "You mean jettison everything?"
      "Get everything out of this goddamned airplane that you can get out!"


Foster hurried to follow orders while Vinson broadcast a Mayday. Then Vinson managed to restart engine number one, although it was still out of synchronization. The plane continued losing altitude as Foster alternated between jettisoning additional cargo and dashing to the cockpit to ask, "Is it light enough yet?"

      "Keep throwin', keep throwin'-get it lighter or we're goin' in the drink!"


The frantic purser and the passengers tossed out everything they could get their hands on: the sextant, crew baggage, all the seats, the upholstery, the honey buckets (toilets), and even the navigator's shoes.


By the time the Air-Sea Rescue ship arrived on the scene, Vinson was flying at an altitude of only 500 feet. He managed to keep the DC-4 at that altitude by holding full opposite rudder to avoid going into a spin. Soon, another Transocean aircraft arrived from Wake. Unable to fly alongside because he would stall if he attempted the same slow airspeed as the crippled
ship, the pilot of the second airplane had to fly lazy circles around it.


Captain Vinson and co-pilot Floyd Calvin, escorted by the second TAL plane, nursed the airliner back to Wake, shirts and undershorts dangling from its tail. Everyone on the island had awaited word of its fate, and the group waiting on the tarmac sent up a rousing cheer as the plane touched the runway.

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