Accident description
Last updated: 31 October 2014
Status:Final
Date:Thursday 29 October 1953
Type:Silhouette image of generic DC6 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Douglas DC-6
Operator:British Commonwealth Pacific Airways
Registration: VH-BPE
C/n / msn: 43125/131
First flight: 1948
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CA15
Crew:Fatalities: 8 / Occupants: 8
Passengers:Fatalities: 11 / Occupants: 11
Total:Fatalities: 19 / Occupants: 19
Airplane damage: Damaged beyond repair
Location:12 km (7.5 mls) SE of Half Moon Bay, CA (   United States of America)
Phase: Approach (APR)
Nature:International Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport:Honolulu International Airport, HI (HNL/PHNL), United States of America
Destination airport:San Francisco International Airport, CA (SFO/KSFO), United States of America
Narrative:
British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines Flight 304/44 was scheduled between Sydney (SYD), Australia, and San Francisco (SFO) with intermediate stops at Nadi (NAN), Fiji, Canton Island (CIS), and Honolulu (HNL). The flight to Honolulu was without incident.
The crew filed an IFR flight plan with ARTC (Air Route Traffic Control) which indicated a rhumb line course was to be flown to San Francisco with Sacramento the alternate airport. The estimated flying time of the flight was nine hours and 25 minutes. Flight 304/44 departed Honolulu at 22:59, October 28, 1953.
As the flight proceeded toward San Francisco hourly routine position reports were made to OFACS (Overseas Foreign Aeronautical Communication Station). At 05:55, the flight reported: "VHBPE Position 32.39N 134,40W. Time 1350 (0550). Altitude 11,500. Track 064 degrees. Ground speed 225 knots. Estimating over SFO at 1640Z (0840). Estimating arrival at Blocks 1650Z (0850)." In answer to a request from the flight, San Francisco ARTC, at 0807, cleared it to descend in accordance with Visual Flight Rules and to maintain at least 500 feet on top of clouds. The flight reported that it was starting descent at 08:15 and at that time was given the San Francisco 08:00 weather: "Measured ceiling 1.200 feet. broken. visibility nine statute miles. temperature 54. dew point 50, wind west 12 knots and altimeter 30.13." As the aircraft approached the coast, ARTC cleared the flight as follows: "ATC clears VHBPE to the San Francisco ILS Outer Marker via the Half Moon Bay Fan Marker direct to the San Francisco Outer Marker. Maintain at least 500 feet above all clouds. Contact San Francisco Approach Control after passing Half Moon Bay Fan Marker. Cloud tops reported in the Bay area l.700 feet." This message was acknowledged and repeated back. The last communication from the flight heard by OFACS was at 08:23 when the aircraft reported approximately 60 miles west of the coast.
At 08:39, the flight called San Francisco Approach Control, identified itself as "Air Pacific Echo" and advised that it was over Half Moon Bay, 500 on top. Approach Control acknowledged and gave the following clearance: "Cleared for an ILS approach to the airport, runway 28, wind west 15; cross the outer marker initial at least 500 on top, report when inbound; ceiling 1.200, visibility nine. altimeter 30.14."
Approximately three minutes later, the flight made a report which was acknowledged by the controller as "Air Pacific Easy, Roger, southeast, turning inbound"; the controller then added. "Check passing the ILS outer marker inbound."
His actual position however was southwest of the airport - not southeast. It is therefore probable that the captain after reporting over Half Moon Bay either saw the terrain momentarily through an unreported break in the overcast or because of a radio navigational error became convinced that his position was farther northeast, and started to let down over what he believed was the proper area for this descent.
The DC-6 initially struck and topped several large redwood trees, continued across a narrow ravine and crashed against the side of a steeply rising slope approximately one-half mile beyond the first tree struck. The elevation of this tree at the point of contact was 2902 feet MSL.

American pianist William Kapell was killed in the crash; he was returning from a tour in Australia.


PROBABLE CAUSE: "The failure of the crew to follow prescribed procedures for an instrument approach."

Classification:

Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) - Mountain

Sources:
» ICAO Accident Digest Circular 39-AN/34 (126-128)


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Distance from Honolulu International Airport, HI to San Francisco International Airport, CA as the crow flies is 3835 km (2397 miles).

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Douglas DC-6

  • 18th loss
  • 704 built
  • 11th worst accident (at the time)
  • 41st worst accident (currently)
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 United States of America
  • 58th worst accident (at the time)
  • 182nd worst accident (currently)
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