2019 Expedition
Sea plane taking off

Search for the Samoan Clipper

July 14 – 20, 2019
NA111
Lead Scientist
Lead Scientist
Expedition Leader

Working with the Air/Sea Heritage Foundation, the objective of this expedition is to locate, identify, and document the wreckage of Samoan Clipper, a Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42B flying boat lost off the northwest coast of Tutuila, American Samoa in January 1938. If successful, the resulting survey will characterize an archaeological site with major significance to aviation and American Samoan history, determine the final resting place of pioneering Captain Edwin C. Musick and his 6-man crew, plus investigate the wreckage for evidence as to what lead to their fate.

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Pan American Airways lead the way in establishing aerial links between the USA and the rest of the globe that would ultimately help to define the modern air transport industry. Sikorsky S-42 type flying boats, developed exclusively for Pan Am, served as the workhorses for this audacious effort and Samoan Clipper was the first of three such aircraft designated to make special long-range survey flights. The plane was tasked to inaugurate service between the United States and New Zealand by way of Alameda, Honolulu, Kingman Reef, Pago Pago in American Samoa, and Auckland. The man charged with this difficult undertaking was Edwin C. Musick, Pan Am’s Chief Pilot, who at one time held more records and honors than any other active flier, including the 1935 Harmon Trophy which recognized him as “the world’s outstanding aviator.”

Samoan Clipper was one of the first serious losses suffered by seminal air carrier Pan American in its long and illustrious history, and today no example of the innovative Sikorsky S-42 type aircraft survives in a museum or private collection, nor are there any currently known wrecks. In fact, barely any trace of this trailblazing fleet of flying boats still exists above or below the water. This expedition searching for the sunken Samoan Clipper represents a unique opportunity to study one of the most consequential of these craft and to do so in context of its pioneering survey work and tragic loss.

Sponsored by: Air/Sea Heritage Foundation

Meet the Team