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All those Wonderful Stories

On a Wing & a Prayer

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

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

Weather often played a dramatic role in Transocean's around-the-world operation as reporting aids were few and unsophisticated during the forties and fifties. One incident in which weather played havoc with a TAL aircraft occurred in 1957 when a DC-4 was en route to Tokyo carrying a passenger load of fifty-three Catholic nuns.


The crew were briefed by the meteorological office on Wake Island that a severe typhoon was about to pass through the Tokyo area shortly before their ETA .(estimated time of arrival). However, they were assured that the storm would be fifty miles northeast of Haneda International by the time they landed.


On their arrival at 1:30 in the morning, they found themselves in the middle of the typhoon, which had taken out all the lights in the vicinity of the airport and disrupted ground communications as well.


Unable to land, the pilot flew the aircraft, for over an hour in severe turbulence, in an elliptical holding pattern on the Kisarazu homer just off the Japanese coast.


Radio Operator Ralph Lewis remembers the storm as the worst he experienced during his flying career. "Suddenly, it felt as though we had struck a brick wall. The plane shot up a thousand feet, climbing at the rate of 2,000 feet a minute, with all four engines throttled back.

"Then without warning, we hit the ceiling and began to fall, fluttering down like a leaf in a breeze, again at 2,000 feet a minute with full throttle applied. My work table was thrown to the floor, and I was oscillating between the floor and the ceiling. "Before long, a torrent of rain began leaking through the windshield. The two pilots were getting soaked, and I remember them yelling over the din for towels.


"To add to the excitement, a phenomenon seen during electrical storms and known as Saint Elmo's Fire was shooting long fingers of blue light in front of the four propeller blades.


"Lightning struck the aircraft with loud explosions. And it sounded like someone was outside beating on the fuselage with a baseball bat.


"When the storm subsided, we picked up the cockpit debris, then worked our way back to the passenger cabin, where the nuns were all over the place. Fortunately, no one was severely injured.


"After a half-hour of circling, the runway and airport lights were restored, and we landed in a gusty forty-mile-an-hour crosswind. There were at least three inches of water on the runway, and because the heavy winds would have blown the boarding ramp (stairs) over, we were forced to stay on board the aircraft. But no one cared. We slept in our seats until daylight, thankful that we were safe on the ground. I still think it was the fervent 'Hail Marys' offered up by those fifty-three women that brought us through."

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