On the afternoon of November 8, 1957, Pan American Airlines Clipper “Romance of the Skies” vanished in mid-ocean, at the so-called point of no return, halfway between San Francisco and Honolulu. The pilot’s last transmission, at 5:04 pm local time, indicated that all was well onboard the giant and luxurious Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
The sudden and mysterious disappearance of Romance of the Skies coincided with the end of the golden era of airline travel that had begun with Pan Am’s famous ocean-spanning Clippers in the 1920s. By the 1950s, Pan American was heavily marketing the Stratocruiser 377 as the ultimate in luxury and sophistication. First class meals were catered by Maxim’s Paris, Pullman-style berths were available on board, and the horse-shoe shaped lounge at the bottom of the spiral staircase was a classy gathering spot for fashionable, well-to-do travelers.
Romance had embarked on the San Francisco to Honolulu leg of what was an around the world flight, and the passenger list reflected the privilege and wealth you’d expect on such an exclusive excursion. Among the passengers onboard that day were the president of Renault Europe, an Air Force intelligence officer bound for Vietnam, a sailor returning to Tokyo to marry the Japanese woman he had met during the war, and one passenger who bought three large life insurance policies in the days before the flight. Romance was also carrying some unusual cargo: one of IBM’s first computers, a shipment of radioactive isotopes, and four hundred pounds of highly-flammable celluloid film.
The mid-ocean disappearance of Romance of the Skies prompted the largest sea-air search since Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra had been declared missing some twenty years before. Although some bodies and wreckage were eventually recovered, the crash remains to this day one of the few unsolved disasters in American aviation history.
I created this website in memory of my father, second officer William H. Fortenberry. It is dedicated to the memory of the 44 people who perished on Romance of the Skies – Ken H. Fortenberry
The investigation continues…
Award-winning investigative journalist Ken H. Fortenberry and noted Cold War historian Dr. Gregg Herken have teamed up to solve this mystery and recently were awarded a Pan Am Historical Foundation grant to continue their pursuit.
Their quest for discovering what happened to the giant airliner will not end until the answers have been found.