Pan Am-Grace Flying Boat crashes in route from Guayaquil Ecuador to Panama (1937)

Posted on February 2, 2018 • Filed under: Ecuador, Ecuador Trivia, Latin America Aviation, Panama

Pan-American-Grace Airwways was a pioneer in air travel throughtout much of Latin America. Many remininensce about the nostalgic times of the great Pan American clipper ships flying high ito the Andes and to the coastal areas where the beautiful Sikorsky S-43 would transport passengers in style and comfort.

On Monday August 2nd, 1937, eleven passengers and three crew members were on board a Sikorsky in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The flight had originated in Lima, Peru and had already been delayed 24 hours. It was scheduled to arrive at the Cristobal Seaplane Base in Panama. After leaving Guayaquil, the plane made scheduled stops in Cali and Tumaco Colombia.

At 7:15 pm, the clipper sent a radio message that the aircraft was circling or spiraling downward because of overcast skies near Cristobal. The flight was not heard from again. On August 3, U.S. Navy and Army aircraft spotted the wreckage of the Sikorsky and reported that it was “totally under water no sign of life”. The impact area was approximately 30 miles ortheast of Cristobal.


An investigation revealed that the aircraft hit the ocean at not-less than 90 miles an hour which ended the life of all on board. The fire was a result of the impact. Most probable cause(s) named — Failure of one or both engines due to faulty gasoline system, occuring during spiralling down mentioned in pilot’s last message. Encountering of a sudden severe rain, as altitude was being lost by the plane in spiraling descent, resulting in the(sic) blanking out of all visual contact.  Other sources –  Read Article 

Pan American Airways’ founder and president, Juan Terry Trippe, commissioned Sikorsky to design the S-43 in 1934. These twin-engine, 18 passenger, “Baby Clipper” amphibians were designed for coastal and other routes in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. The first and second airplanes, however, went to Inter-Island Airways, Ltd, (now Hawaiian Airlines) in 1935. Inter-Island later took delivery of two more S-43s. Pan American ordered a total of twelve S-43’s; one source, though, says the total was 13. Of these Pan Am, themselves, operated only three; the balance going to subsidiaries Pan Air do Brazil (7) and Pan American-Grace Airways, Inc. – PANAGRA – (2). Two were also flown by Reeve Aleutian Airways in Alaska. After a crash, Pan Am’s c/n 4316 (NC-16927) was rebuilt, using parts from crashed c/n’s 4307 and 4308, as a twin-tailed S-43B. William Vanderbilt and Howard Hughes each ordered S-43’s for personal use. Vanderbilt’s was fitted out, and used, as a “Flying Yacht”; Hughes’ was fitted with extra fuel tanks and radio/navigation gear for a round-the-world record attempt. Hughes later had his NX-440 rebuilt in the twin-tailed S-43B configuration and thereupon crashed it in Lake Mead. The record attempt was never made with the Sikorsky but Hughes did break Wiley Post’s record in a Lockheed L-14 “Super Electra” in July 1938. The U.S. Army bought seven as OA-8s and the U.S. Navy bought five as JRS-1s; some of the Navy’s were allocated to the U.S. Marine Corps and to the U.S. Coast Guard. Another buyer was China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), of which Pan Am owned 45%. CNAC allocated one of these to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek for her personal use as head of the Chinese Air Force. Aeromaritime, of France, operated S-43s in West Africa. Other airlines operated them in Norway, the Philippines and in The Soviet Union.

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