Flying boats before Kai Tak runway opened – SCMP article
‘Scheduled seaplane services were a vital fixture in Victoria Harbour for more than two decades starting from the 1930s, and some of the floatplanes flying between Hong Kong and Macau had a special mission – shuttling gold between the two colonies.
James Ng, an expert on Hong Kong’s aviation history and a member of the Hong Kong Collectors Society, said the seaplane service was introduced when the Hong Kong Clipper, a plane owned by Pan American Airways, flew from Macau on April 28, 1937.
The seaplane picked up passengers in Macau who travelled on another Pan Am seaplane, China Clipper, from San Francisco to Manila via Macau. “Passengers who intended to travel to mainland China took other flights in Hong Kong after arriving in the city,” Mr Ng said.
“Pan Am’s seaplane flight was an American airline’s first provision of a commercial flight service between Hong Kong, the United States and China,” he said.
It took about twenty minutes for a flight between Hong Kong and Macau.
Pan Am operated two flights every week until Japan’s invasion in 1941.
Seaplanes were more common in the period because they required only a stretch of water for a runway.
“Seaplanes are part of the collective memory of Hong Kong and have a long and dynamic cultural history.” said Michael Agopsowicz, who plans to reintroduce the seaplane service to Macau.
Macao Air Transport Company (Matco), which was set up by entrepreneurs Sydney de Kantzow and Roy Ferrell in the late 1940s, transported gold and a few passengers between the two cities until the early 1960s. The pair were also founders of Cathay Pacific.
According to the Cathay Pacific website, Catalina seaplanes were brought into service with the airline in late 1946, primarily to shuttle gold between Hong Kong and Macau.
The lack of a airstrip in Macau in those days meant landing on water was the only option.
In July 16, 1948, a Catalina flying boat, Miss Macao, which was chartered to Matco for flights between Hong Kong and Macau, became the world’s first commercial victim of an air hijacking.
Miss Macao was making a routine flight that day with 26 passengers and crew when four hijackers demanded that the plane be taken to a remote area. The hijackers had heard tempting reports of cargoes of gold bullion and planned to hold up the Catalina and divert it to another location where it could be looted.
But the plan failed when one of the hijackers shot the pilot, whose body slumped across the controls, causing the aircraft to dive into the sea. Twenty six people died. The only survivor was the leader of the hijackers.
Mr Ng said the seaplane service operated between Hong Kong and Macau until the late 1950s. “Seaplane services became obsolete after the opening of the Kai Tak runway in 1958,” said Mr Ng, author of a book on Hong Kong’s aviation history.’ (1)
This article was first posted on 11th June 2017.
- Glory days of flying boats before Kai Tak runway opened SCMP 14th July, updated 3rd October 2016
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